New York City is banning natural gas hookups for new buildings to fight climate change

Environment

Protesters seen holding placards calling for a stop to the Williams natural gas pipeline (aka ‘Northeast Supply Enhancement (NESE) Pipeline”) during a demonstration held on Centre Street adjacent to City Hall Park in New York City.
Michael Brochstein | LightRocket | Getty Images

The New York City Council on Wednesday voted to pass legislation banning the use of natural gas in most new construction, a move that will substantially slash climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions from the country’s most populous city.

The bill now goes to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s desk for signature. Once signed, the measure will go into effect at the end of 2023 for some buildings under seven stories, and in 2027 for taller buildings. Hospitals, commercial kitchens and laundromats are exempt from the ban.

Under the law, construction projects submitted for approval after 2027 must use sources like electricity for stoves, space heaters and water boilers instead of gas or oil. Residents who currently have gas stoves and heaters in their homes will not be impacted unless they relocate to a new building.

Buildings in New York City account for about 70% of its greenhouse gases. Today’s ban will likely push forward a New York state requirement to obtain 70% of its electricity from renewable sources like solar, wind and water power by 2030 and achieve a net-zero emissions electric sector by 2040.

“If the largest city in America can take this critical step to ban gas use, any city can do the same,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement. “This is how to fight back against climate change on the local level and guarantee a green city for generations to come.”

The bill will cut about 2.1 million tons of carbon emissions by 2040 — equivalent to the annual emissions of 450,000 cars — and save consumers several hundred million dollars in new gas connections, according to a study by the think tank RMI.

Climate advocates stand beside a banner ahead of a rally at City Hall Park to celebrate passage of a bill to end gas use in new buildings in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., December 15, 2021. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
ANDREW KELLY | REUTERS

The ban will also minimize the risk of gas explosions and reduce exposure to air pollution that poses health risks to residents, particularly low-income communities of color that are disproportionately exposed to pollution.

Similar policies have been debated across the country. A few dozen cities, including San Francisco, Berkeley and San Jose in California; Cambridge, Mass.; and Seattle, have moved to ban natural gas hook ups in some new buildings as a way to combat climate change.

However, states like Texas and Arizona have barred cities from implementing such changes, citing that consumers have the right to pick their energy sources.

Real estate groups, the oil and gas sector and the National Grid — the utility that provides the city with natural gas — have strongly opposed the bill, arguing that it will cause a spike in demand for electricity that could prompt winter blackouts.

Opponents also argue that the legislation will prompt higher costs for buildings that use electricity for heat compared to those that use natural gas.

“The real estate industry is committed to working with policymakers to develop proven policies that meaningfully reduce carbon emissions from the built environment,” said James Whelan, president of the Real Estate Board of New York, a trade association for the city’s real estate sector.

“While we appreciate that the efficient electrification of buildings is an important component of realizing these goals, these policies must be implemented in a way that ensure that New Yorkers have reliable, affordable, carbon-free electricity to heat, cool and power their homes and businesses,” Whelan said.

Michael Giaimo, Northeast regional director of the American Petroleum Institute, an oil and gas lobbying group, said the bill was “rushed through the legislative process without adequate review, analysis or debate.”

“With additional time and study, we believe the Council will better appreciate the impact of enhanced electrification as well as the importance of a diverse energy mix,” Giaimo said. “Hydrogen and renewable natural gas can play a critical role in furthering the city’s emission reduction goals while maintaining affordability and preserving consumer choice.”

Con Edison, the city’s other major utility company that provides electricity in addition to gas, has been a proponent of the bill along with some sustainable building groups and energy analysts. Supporters have argued that the city’s grid is well equipped to handle an increase in electricity demand.

Environmental groups celebrated the vote Wednesday and urged New York state and the country to follow in its footsteps.

“America’s biggest city is serious about climate change, and today proves it,” said Alex Beauchamp, Northeast Region director of the environmental group Food & Water Watch.

“With a gas free NYC, we can deliver better public health outcomes and make real strides to cut climate-warming emissions,” Beauchamp said. “Next up, New York state and the nation must follow suit.”

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