Commentary: Calls to ban natural gas appliances are misguided

Commentary: Calls to ban natural gas appliances are misguided

Natural gas piping for stoves or water heaters will be forbidden in new buildings in Berkeley, Calif., beginning in 2020. (Andrii Biletskyi/Dreamstime/TNS)

For perhaps a million years or more, mankind has cooked meals with fire. For more than a century, innovators brought the experience of cooking over an open flame into American households with natural gas stoves. Over time, that experience has only gotten cheaper, safer and cleaner.

So why do some policymakers want to ban its use? To combat climate change. Several cities are studying proposals to restrict the use of natural gas in commercial and residential buildings as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Both economically and environmentally, however, the push to ban natural gas from homes and commercial buildings is extremely misguided.

Nearly half country uses natural gas to heat their homes, and about 40% have natural gas stoves. So for the 177 million Americans who use natural gas, not to mention all of the commercial buildings that rely on it as an inexpensive, dependable energy source, the costs would be substantial.

For one thing, using natural gas appliances saves families money on their energy bills. Households that use natural gas for heating, cooking and drying clothes save nearly $900 per year compared with families using electric appliances.

Furthermore, mandated restrictions on gas appliances would restrict consumer choice. Banning natural gas appliances in new buildings would require a move away from a clean, affordable resource that consumers prefer.

Homeowners and chefs prefer gas ranges because they work quickly and cook more evenly. They're also easier to maintain, and continue to function during power outages.

Some cities have floated the idea of banning or restricting natural gas appliances from existing homes and businesses, as well. Replacing all of these appliances would potentially cost tens of thousands of dollars per household, unnecessarily replacing appliances in fine working condition.

It would also create headaches for all of the people forced to have crews come into their homes to retrofit or replace them.

And yet, somehow proponents are spinning electrification as net jobs creators. But they fall prey to the broken-window fallacy.

19th century French economist Frederic Bastiat first explained the broken window fallacy where he outlines a scenario in which a shopkeeper's son breaks a window. As pays money to fix the window, the onlookers note the supposed economic benefit, remarking, "Accidents like this keep production moving."

What is not seen, however, is what the shopkeeper could have spent that money on if the window hadn't broken - for instance, a new book. If the window weren't broken, the shopkeeper would have a window and the book.

Likewise, when the government mandates electrification, what is not seen is that labor and capital could have been invested elsewhere. At a time when policymakers are searching for a way to jolt the economy, banning natural gas would have the opposite effect.

Moreover, in many instances, gas appliances are actually the greener option. As Consumer Affairs reported last year, "Gas takes the trophy as the more eco-friendly option for any appliance. Gas dryers in particular use 30% less energy than electric ones, which will reduce your carbon footprint."

In fact, the Center for Energy and Climate Solutions actually recommends replacing certain electric appliances with natural gas models.

So, why all the backlash? Because despite the economic and environmental benefits that natural gas delivers, it is still a fossil fuel and for some, all fossil fuels are off limits.

And now fossil fuel opponents are going beyond climate to sell their pitch. More effort has gone into the effects of gas-fired stoves on indoor air quality.

Using 2018 data, a recent UCLA study suggests that switching all natural gas appliances to electric in California homes would result in 354 fewer deaths as a result of less indoor pollution. To be clear, cooking on electric stovetops and natural gas ranges both produce fine particulates that affect indoor air quality.

However, there are more practical alternatives than requiring homes to replace a perfectly functioning gas range. Using venting hoods and cooking on the back burner significantly reduce exposure.

Furthermore, there are public health risks to removing access to affordable, reliable energy. According to a recent paper in the National Bureau of Economic Research, cheaper home heating from natural gas when compared with electric heat is averting more than 10,000 winter deaths per year.

When comparing natural gas to electricity, they wrote, "We find that a lower heating price reduces winter mortality, driven mostly by cardiovascular and respiratory causes."

Electrification would be extremely costly and annoying for families and businesses. It would restrict the ability of consumers to purchase the appliances they want.

Like many misguided environmental policies, banning natural gas appliances is less about achieving a healthier, cleaner environment and more an unfounded attack on a particular fuel source.



Nicolas Loris is The Heritage Foundation's Morgan Fellow in Energy and Environmental Policy and deputy director of its Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies.

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