Despite opposition from fossil fuel companies, New York City has become the largest municipality to enact a natural gas ban that applies to both heating buildings and gas hookups for appliances. This landmark climate change legislation is intended to help transition the city to cleaner sources of energy. The natural gas ban will take effect in December 2023 for buildings under seven stories and in 2027 for buildings greater than seven stories.
The city’s mayor, Bill de Blasio, applauded the ban as he signed it into law. “New York City is proof that it’s possible to end the era of fossil fuels, invest in a sustainable future, protect public health, and create good-paying jobs in the process,” he said. “If the largest city in America can take this critical step to ban gas use, any city can do the same!”
The city joins 56 other towns and cities to prohibit new homes and offices from using natural gas to mitigate fossil fuel consumption at the local level. As the largest city in the United States, this legislation sets a precedent: Instead of using natural gas furnaces, water heaters, and ranges, buildings are to use electric appliances, such as energy-efficient heat pumps, induction stoves, and hybrid water heaters.
Although the energy industry has tried to tout natural gas as a clean fuel, studies show that it isn’t. Although burning it does release fewer emissions compared to coal, the drilling and fracking process make its impact on the climate even worse, according to researchers at Cornell University. Natural gas is primarily methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas. Thus, fracking, drilling, and gas leaks can result in significant methane emissions.
“We do not have time to continue to burn fossil fuels,” said Brad Lander, an outgoing council member and the next New York City comptroller. “We have a lot of work to do to make sure that we convert our energy grid to solar and wind and renewables so that the energy power that is powering our buildings is clean and renewable as well and I look forward to fighting hard to continue that in the Comptroller’s office.”
Currently, much of the power generated in New York state is derived from natural gas, which fuels five of the ten largest power plants. In 2020, about 30 percent of the state’s power came from renewable energy, with hydroelectricity producing the lion’s share.
Yet, the use of solar and wind energy capacity is growing dramatically, thanks in part due to state incentives and policies, including a state tax credit for solar energy. In 2020, 2.5 percent of in-state power production came from solar energy, and the state ranked fifth in the nation for small-scale solar.
The goal of the city’s natural gas ban is to reduce the infrastructure that requires fossil fuels as the city increases its use of cleaner electricity over time. It also helps take the burden off of individuals by making systemic changes across the city’s infrastructure.
“Climate justice is racial justice, so let’s keep putting people first,” said NYC council member Alicka Ampry-Samuel, who sponsored the bill. “The responsibility has always been on individuals: multi-use water bottles, shorter showers, home recycling; this council also prohibited single-use straws, plastic bags, and reduced the usage of plastic flatware. We have literally made personal environmental responsibility a letter of the law, but buildings are responsible for nearly half of the greenhouse emissions that are destroying our Earth every day.”
Image credit: Ivan Karpov via Unsplash
Sarah Lozanova is an environmental journalist and copywriter and has worked as a consultant to help large corporations become more sustainable. She is the author of Humane Home: Easy Steps for Sustainable & Green Living, and her renewable energy experience includes residential and commercial solar energy installations. She teaches green business classes to graduate students at Unity College and holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School.