N.Y. Gov. Hochul proposes ban on new gas hookups, to fight climate change

If the state Legislature passes Hochul's plan, the sale of all fossil fuel-burning home appliances would be phased out by the end of the decade.

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Gov. Kathy Hochul speaks to the media.

In the same week that the Biden administration reversed course on whether a ban on the sale of new gas stoves is under consideration, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul proposed banning fossil fuel infrastructure, including lines that power gas stoves and furnaces, in smaller new residential buildings by 2025 and in larger ones by 2028.

Hochul, a Democrat, also proposed the same requirement for commercial buildings beginning in 2030. The governor also wants to end sales of new oil or gas heating equipment — boilers, stoves, dryers and hot water heaters — in existing residential buildings by 2030 and by 2035 in existing commercial buildings.

“We know that the key to long-term sustainability — for our wallets and our planet — is weaning ourselves from fossil fuels,” Hochul said Tuesday in her state of the state speech. “We are taking these actions because climate change remains the greatest threat to our planet, and to our children and grandchildren.”

Last year, Washington state mandated the use of electric heat pumps in new homes and apartments, but, in recognition of the limitations of electric heat pumps in colder climates, fossil fuel burners will still be allowed to provide backup heat. The California Air Resources Board approved a plan last year to end the sale of fossil fuel appliances statewide, but the rules are still being drafted.

Hochul made a similar proposal last year, just a month after New York City banned new gas hookups and tried to get legislators to include it in the state budget. It failed, however, reportedly due to opposition from Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Democrat. Other cities, such as Los Angeles and Seattle, have also banned most gas hookups for most appliances in new homes.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie speaks at a podium in the New York State Assembly.
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Democrat, at the Legislative Office Building in Albany, N.Y., in August 2021. (Cindy Schultz/Reuters)

Hochul also proposed a slate of other climate change policies in Tuesday’s speech, including financial assistance for low-income households that can be used toward weatherizing homes and a program known as “cap and invest” that would limit carbon emissions by setting an annual cap on carbon emissions (which would gradually decrease), selling credits for the allowable emissions and spending the proceeds on a mix of consumer rebates and subsidies for building green industries.

“The faster we wean ourselves off of fossil fuels, the better we are for it,” Heastie told reporters on Tuesday. He did not indicate whether he would endorse Hochul’s gas ban proposal specifically. When asked by the publication Energywire, his aides only pointed to his general comments in response.

Environmental activists in New York eagerly embraced the proposed gas ban put forth by the governor.

“Ending gas in all new construction will save New Yorkers money, create jobs and fight climate change,” Pete Sikora, the climate and inequality campaigns director at New York Communities for Change, a progressive advocacy organization, told Yahoo News. Sikora said his only objection to Hochul’s plan is that the ban on the sale of new fossil-fuel-burning appliances will not be implemented sooner.

The gas flame in a lighted boiler.
Gas flame in a boiler. (Arterra/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Nationally, the movement to halt the installation of new gas-burning appliances, including stoves, suffered a setback on Wednesday, when the chair of the Consumer Product Safety Commission [CPSC], Alexander Hoehn-Saric, said in a statement, “I am not looking to ban gas stoves, and the CPSC has no proceeding to do so.” Richard Trumka Jr., a CPSC commissioner, had told Bloomberg News on Monday that the agency would consider a ban in response to research showing that gas stoves pollute indoor air and may have caused an estimated 650,000 current U.S. childhood asthma cases.

Trumka’s comments had drawn intense criticism from congressional Republicans. One particularly strident statement from Texas Rep. Ronny Jackson — “they can pry [my gas stove] from my cold dead hands” — drew a sharp rejoinder from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.

The natural gas industry and New York Republicans immediately voiced opposition to Hochul’s proposed phaseout of fossil fuel hookups. Since electric heat pumps don’t work as efficiently in very cold temperatures, they argue, New York’s electricity demand in winter could be dramatically higher if all home heating, hot water, and cooking ran on electricity and then a surge in demand could lead to a electricity shortage in the winter months, similar to the risk of blackouts that New Yorkers sometimes fear during the summer, when air conditioners are running.

“Any push to ban natural gas would raise costs to consumers, jeopardize environmental progress and deny affordable energy to underserved populations,” American Gas Association (AGA) President and CEO Karen Harbert said in a statement emailed to Yahoo News by a spokesperson.

New York state estimates that over the next few decades, electricity generation and transmission capacity will have to double to meet the growing demand driven by electrification of cars, home heating and other appliances, but the AGA predicts that quadrupling capacity would be necessary to meet demand on the coldest days.

A Vaillant Arotherm plus air-source heat pump ready for installation outside a home.
A Vaillant Arotherm plus 7-kilowatt air source heat pump unit in Folkestone, U.K., in 2021. (Andrew Aitchison / In pictures via Getty Images)

Almost half of New York’s current energy portfolio is drawn from natural gas, and that much more electricity demand could undermine the climate benefits of avoiding burning natural gas in the home. However, the state — which already gets 54% of its power from cleaner sources such as nuclear, hydropower and wind and solar — has a plan to reach 70% renewable energy by 2030.

Sikora expressed confidence that in the future, electric heat pumps will be plugged into a greener grid. New York’s first offshore wind farm is set to open this yea. “[The] grid that is going to become vastly cleaner,” Sikora said. “There's already wind farms coming onto the system off shore, but the big acceleration is mid-decade.”

The energy policy think tank RMI modeled the effect of a policy similar to Hochul’s plan last year and found that by 2040, it would save the equivalent in greenhouse gas emissions of taking 870,000 cars off the road.

Flames burn on a natural gas-burning stove.
The burner on a natural gas-burning stove. (Photo Illustration by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Representatives of New York's restaurant industry attacked the governor's proposal, which they fear could require expensive electrical upgrades in New York’s older buildings for electric stoves to meet the needs of commercial kitchens.

“Putting aside if chefs prefer cooking with gas or not, the cost to open up a new restaurant would skyrocket if someone had to convert existing gas equipment into electric, which could be further complicated by whether or not the building had an adequate electrical load,” Andrew Rigie, executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, which represents bars and restaurants, told the New York Post.