New York has become the first state in the country to ban gas hook-ups in new buildings. A section of the state’s recently passed, long-delayed 2024 budget includes a policy known as the All Electric Buildings Act. Under the law, signed by Governor Kathy Hochul on Wednesday, New York is headed for a climate-friendlier future.
The legislation follows a rise in restrictions on gas in buildings nationwide but is historic in its scale and scope. Its impacts could reverberate far beyond New York. “This is the first time a state legislature has implemented a building electrification experiment statewide,” said Amy Turner, a lawyer and legal researcher at Columbia University’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, in a phone call with Gizmodo. “They’ve gone through the political process to make this happen, and I think it really makes a strong case for building electrification being a politically viable approach to decarbonization.”
Beginning in 2026, new buildings smaller than seven stories high in New York won’t be allowed to include fossil fuel lines for gas-powered appliances—including stoves, furnaces, or water heaters. Starting 2029, the same policy will apply to larger buildings. Instead, most new construction projects will have to be all electric. The legislation includes some big exceptions for facilities like commercial kitchens, factories, and water treatment plants, and for buildings like hospitals and labs that require backup generators. But by and large, it outlaws gas hook-ups statewide and requires entirely electrified heating and cooking. All residential construction is covered by the law.
The news comes just a couple of weeks after the U.S.’s first gas ban was overturned in federal court. Three judges in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided that Berkeley, California’s 2019 municipal policy barring gas lines in new buildings flouted federal law. But for a few reasons, Turner told Gizmodo, New York’s law is unaffected by that ruling and insulated from other legal challenges. For now, New York’s gas ban is likely to stand.
Why Ban Gas?
Methane gas, a fossil fuel often referred to as natural gas, fuels combustion cook-tops, water boilers, and furnaces nationwide. About 61% of U.S. households rely on some type of gas appliance, according to 2020 data from the federal Energy Information Administration. In New York state, that percentage is about 52%.
All of that gas combustion has consequences for the climate. More than 10% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions come from commercial and residential combustion of fossil fuels for heating and cooking, according to 2021 EPA data. And that doesn’t include the additional environmental toll of all the unaccounted-for methane that leaks out of these appliances. It’s “a significant portion of our greenhouse gas” output, said Turner. “This requirement will help lessen those climate warming emissions.”
There are other upsides to phasing out gas in indoor settings. Gas appliances, particularly stoves, have been proven time and time again to be dangerous. Emissions and burn byproducts from gas stoves increase cancer risk, contribute to childhood asthma rates, and can even contribute to cognitive declines along with a whole host of other health problems. Plus, gas appliances and lines can explode. “There are really significant and positive health and safety benefits associated with getting natural gas combustion out of our homes and buildings,” Turner told Gizmodo.
Where Else Are Gas Restrictions Happening?
New York’s legislation could offer a roadmap to other states. Simultaneously, it follows the lead of many other places and regulations.
California and Washington state have their own policies in place meant to limit gas lines in new construction. However, California’s regulation isn’t a direct ban of fossil-fueled systems. Instead, the Golden State shifted its energy efficiency standards to promote electric appliances over gas in 2021. In Washington, the state’s executive mandated electric heat pumps across a wide segment of future buildings through the Building Code Council in 2022. That change doesn’t apply to stove hook-ups and, because it wasn’t achieved through the legislature, Washington’s policy is likely more vulnerable to legal challenges—which it’s already facing.
Elsewhere, numerous cities have their own, smaller-scale policies in place to electrify buildings. Beyond Berkeley’s recently overturned gas ban, these include policies in New York City, San Francisco, Seattle, and dozens of other municipalities nationwide.
Is New York’s Ban Safe for Now?
It would be easy to hear the news about a federal court striking down Berkeley’s ban and assume NY’s new law is doomed. But Turner told Gizmodo that would be a mistake.
For one, the driving force behind taking down the Berkeley policy was the restaurant industry lobby, and New York state’s law doesn’t apply to commercial kitchens. Restaurants can keep their precious blue flames, for now. Further, the 9th Circuit Court’s jurisdiction is limited to nine western states. Even if it did extend eastward, the legal mechanism behind New York’s legislation is different from Berkeley’s, and so any precedent from the California city wouldn’t apply.
Though restrictions on gas appliances have some big, monied opponents (i.e. the fossil fuel industry), Turner said she wasn’t aware of any groups working on legal challenges to New York’s new law.
There’s been a lot of hubbub in recent months surrounding rumors of federal gas stove restrictions through the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Though an outright ban from the CPSC was never really on the table, conservative legislators like Ted Cruz (plus Joe Manchin) stirred some wild uproar in response. Cruz and Manchin have even gone as far to try to ban gas stove bans.
Yet Turner said she thinks most of this pushback has been overblown and manipulated. Though some care deeply about their cooktops, most people are much more focused on “whether they’re warm enough and whether they’re comfortable,” she explained. And electric appliances are more than enough to supply warmth and comfort. Plus, for people who are strongly attached to their combustion systems, no one is “talking about ripping gas stoves out of people’s homes or preventing them from ever using [them],” added Turner. If you have a gas stove in your home currently, nothing changes. In fact, you can go out and purchase a new one whenever you’d like. But moving forward, future development in New York will have to consider what’s best for people and the climate.