January 7, 2022 Will New York Be the First State to Ban Natural Gas?

If you had asked clean energy experts last summer which state would most likely become the first to ban natural gas in the effort to slow climate change, they’d probably have said California. After all, the Golden State was the first in the nation to regulate tailpipe emissions, create an economy-wide carbon market and set the first zero-emissions target for vehicles. 

But when California released its new building code last August, it balked on a gas ban, surprising many advocates who had predicted yet another climate-related first for the state. Now New York seems primed to take that superlative after Gov. Kathy Hochul announced on Wednesday that she was planning to propose new legislation that would ban natural gas in new buildings. The announcement follows a similar move by New York City, which in December became the largest U.S. city to ban the use of fossil fuels as a source for heating in buildings.

Hochul’s plan would require all new building construction to reach zero-emissions by 2027. For most people, that will mean any home or office built after that date will use electrified heat, such as heat pumps, rather than gas-powered boilers, which pump steam through radiators. By 2030, at least 2 million New York homes will be “electrified” in such a way, according to Hochul’s plan.

“To make real progress on climate change, it’s time to tackle major sources of pollution head-on,” Hochul said in a press release. “This transformative investment … will cement New York’s status at the forefront of climate action.”

Those goals, however, are far from a sealed deal. Such a plan would still need to pass the New York State Assembly. But Hochul’s support strengthens the chance of that happening in the state’s Democratic-majority legislature. Lawmakers have already introduced a bill that would require new buildings to electrify starting in 2023, and some climate activists have criticized Hochul for not adopting that more stringent timeline. 

Still, if adopted, Hochul’s plan would make a big dent in New York’s climate-warming emissions—which equaled nearly 380 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2019, according to a government report. Buildings contributed 32 percent of those emissions, the report said, making them the largest source of greenhouse gases in the state when comparing economic sectors.

Advocates also argue that a gas ban is necessary for New York to achieve its mandatory climate targets. The 2019 law requires the state to transition its power sector to net-zero emissions by 2040 and to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions 85 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. A state analysis last summer revealed that the trajectory of New York’s emissions were far off track from reaching those targets.

It’s unclear how much opposition Hochul’s proposal will face from the fossil fuel and utility industries, which have been receiving strong signals over the last three years that oil and gas projects may no longer be welcome in the state. National Grid, one of the state’s largest utilities, opposed New York City’s gas ban, but didn’t comment on Hochul’s proposal, E&E News reported

But Consolidated Edison, another major New York utility, did offer its support of the measure. In a statement to the outlet, a Consolidated Edison spokesperson called Hochul’s proposal “a sensible and necessary step on the path to carbon neutrality by 2050.” That’s a significant shift from an energy provider that, less than two years ago, was battling then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo over not permitting a major pipeline that would have delivered fracked natural gas from Pennsylvania to New York City and Long Island.

That’s it for Today’s Climate this week. I’ll be back in your inbox on Tuesday.

Today’s Indicator

7 percent

That’s the percentage that U.S. greenhouse gas emissions rose last year, compared to 2020, after pandemic-related lockdowns let up and economies reopened, new data shows.