Should Pennsylvania cities like Philadelphia be able to ban natural gas hook-ups for private businesses and homes? Force consumers onto electricity instead?
The Pennsylvania legislature says “no.”
The House Local Government Committee Wednesday approved legislation sponsor Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Bradford) said protects consumers’ energy choices. Senate Bill 275 aims to prevent municipalities from banning access to certain utilities such as natural gas.
The legislation is in response to efforts in New York City and other cities or states to ban natural gas in newly-constructed buildings. Supporters of the ‘no more gas’ movement say it is meant to help the environment and combat climate change. The Sierra Club says natural gas is incredibly harmful to our environment, our health, and our economy. “It still exacerbates climate change, pollutes the air, wreaks environmental devastation, hurts the economy, and interferes with the deployment of renewable energy sources that are ready to go.”
Pointing to California, the Sierra Club says buildings are the second-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions after transportation in that state. “Gas appliances like furnaces and stoves are partially to blame,” they claim.
Yaw called efforts to ban natural gas a “short-sighted policy” that prioritizes ideological purity over a sound energy policy that includes all energy options residents may want or need to access.
“This will preserve access to reliable electricity, no matter where residents live, and prevent a chaotic patchwork of regulations that ultimately undermine statewide environmental and energy policies,” said Yaw in a press release. “It also reaffirms what many local and statewide officials, including the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, already understand to be true: Municipalities do not have the authority to restrict energy sources.”
The measure passed the state Senate by a vote of 35 to 15. Senators voting “no” include Katie Muth, Maria Collett, Carolyn Comitta, and Amanda Cappelletti of the Delaware Valley.
David N. Taylor, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association, says the legislation is needed to protect consumers from both politics and high prices.
“At a time of soaring inflation driven by high energy prices, Sen. Yaw’s legislation would preserve consumer choice for Pennsylvanians just trying to make it to the end of the month,” Taylor said. “Consumers should be allowed to make choices for themselves instead of having local government arbitrarily dictate to them.”
Gordon Tomb, a Pennsylvanian serving as senior advisor to CO2 Coalition, agrees.
“The whole premise that somehow or other natural gas is a threat to the environment is absurd,” says Tomb. “The whole premise of a ban is ridiculous and … it makes no sense.”
All it does, says Tomb, is hurt people and drive up the price of energy.
“It makes life a lot less convenient,” says Tomb.
In addition to having a Beyond Gas campaign, the Sierra Club also operates a Building Electrification program.
“There’s no way we can stave off the worst impacts of the climate crisis if we continue to use gas as we do,” said Rachel Golden, deputy director of the Sierra Club’s Building Electrification program. “For most cities, the building sector is the top source of greenhouse gas emissions, so it will be harder to move forward if they are hamstrung like this.”
Daniel E. Durden, chief executive officer of Pennsylvania Builders Association (PBA), says his organization does not take a position on the governmental actions of neighboring states. That said, PBA believes continued use of efficient gas appliances is a “benefit” to homeowners in all socioeconomic and demographic groups.
“PBA believes hookups should continue to be available to those home buyers and owners who choose them,” says Durden. “Ultimately, providing homebuyer choice serves both the homeowners and the municipalities in which they live.”
But it is not just neighboring states. Earlier this year, Philadelphia City Councilmember Helen Gym strongly urged Philadelphia Gas Works to drop the utility’s support for Yaw’s legislation. “I think it’s important with new leadership at PGW for you to take a stand against SB 275 and keep our public utility in line with the mission, the goals, and the stands of the city of Philadelphia,” Gym said.
The bill has the backing of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry.
“The record is clear – mandates and bans result in higher costs and slower environmental progress than letting families and businesses make use of the energy resource that best fits their needs,” said Kevin Sunday, director of government affairs for the Chamber.
The bill now moves to the full House for consideration.
“We urge the House to consider it promptly,” Taylor said.