Clarence Page: How your gas stove was drafted into the culture wars

Speaking of hot topics, have you heard that the federal government might ban gas stoves — and perhaps even confiscate the beloved big burner you have in your kitchen?

Rest easy, the Biden administration says. No such raids are planned to snatch your stove or any other home appliances. But to some influencers, particularly of the right-wing persuasion, the rumor itself was too tantalizing to be encumbered by anything so quaint and tiresome as facts.

“Now not only is (President Joe) Biden coming for your paycheck, he’s also coming for your stove,” announced Fox News host Sean Hannity on Jan. 10. “You heard me right. The White House is now attempting to ban all gas ovens and burners.”

“I’ll NEVER give up my gas stove,” tweeted Republican Rep. Ronny Jackson of Texas. “If the maniacs in the White House come for my stove, they can pry it from my cold dead hands. COME AND TAKE IT!!”

Rest easy, Ronny. Reassurance comes from no less than Richard Trumka Jr., a Biden appointee to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which is responsible for regulating more than 15,000 household products and appliances, including stoves.

Trumka inadvertently ignited rumors about gas stove ban by telling Bloomberg that the agency could soon increase regulation of the stoves and was considering a ban, but only on new stoves, not the one that might be in your kitchen now.

Why? Among other reasons, more than 12% of current childhood asthma cases in the U.S. can be attributed to gas stove use, Trumka noted, citing new peer-reviewed research published last month in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

Consumer Reports also urged consumers in October to consider going electric in their next oven purchase after tests found high levels of nitrogen oxide gas from gas stoves.

“We are not looking to go into anyone’s homes and take away items that are already there,” Trumka said. “We don’t do that.”

Please don’t. But the suspicion that they do is flourishing, particularly in the conservative outrage industry and among others who happily mock liberal political correctness, as in the popular TikTok meme “My gas stove identifies as electric.”

Ha, ha.

But, while federal officials mull the safety of gas stoves, some cities and states have taken action on their own since famously liberal Berkeley, California, banned gas hookups in most homes and other new buildings in 2019, mostly to reduce carbon emissions that contribute to climate change.

Now environmentalists, consumer advocates and others want Chicago to join New York, Los Angeles and Boston in bans against the use of natural gas in most new construction. Speaking at a news conference Wednesday at Chicago’s City Hall, the Sierra Club’s Illinois chapter director, Jack Darin, called such an ordinance “the next bold step for climate action.”

Yet, bold action bubbles up vigorously on the pro-gas side too. At least 20 states have passed their own preemptive legislation to ban their local governments from passing anti-gas bans.

Gas companies and their allies justify their opposition by citing cost concerns and the freedom for customers to have more choice about their energy supply. I respect that. But I also favor more research and a robust debate to make sure the choice is a good one, based on sound, up-to-date information, not myths and rumors.

The gas debate literally hits us close to home. I grew up hearing my mother argue tirelessly for the superiority of gas over electric stoves, just as many great chefs do today. But I think even Mom would be impressed, as I am, by the speed, heat and efficiency of today’s induction cooktops and ranges.

They generate heat from an electromagnetic field below the glass cooktop surface, then transfer the current directly to magnetic cookware, causing it to heat up — in a matter of seconds.

Of course, they also can cost more, so shop around. Purchasers may be eligible for financial incentives created by Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, subject to abrupt changes in Washington politics.

As the oven debate heats up, I expect it to grow and go through changes like other debates over things that are good for us, like mandatory seat belts, or bad for us, like cigarette smoking.

I expect younger folks similarly will lead the way over time from gas to electric cooking. It’s becoming their world after all. I just feel lucky to be sticking around in it.

cpage@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @cptime