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A California legal battle over gas stoves stirs uncertainty for energy policies across the West

New natural gas hookups to commercial buildings and homes are in the crosshairs of policymakers intent on reducing a growing source of carbon emissions.
New natural gas hookups to commercial buildings and homes are in the crosshairs of policymakers intent on reducing a growing source of carbon emissions.

A court case in California could hamstring efforts in Oregon and Washington to limit new natural gas connections, after an appeals court ruled in April that a city ordinance conflicted with federal law.

A court battle over gas stoves in California is sowing seeds of uncertainty for energy policies in the West, as cities in Oregon and Washington seek to limit the use of natural gas in new homes and buildings.

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in California ruled earlier this year that a natural gas ban in Berkeley overstepped federal law, casting ripple effects across the states under the court's jurisdiction. It covers states along the West Coast, as well as Idaho, Montana, and Nevada.

The court decision comes after the California Restaurant Association sued the city of Berkeley for banning new natural gas lines. In April, a panel of judges ruled in favor of the association, reversing a district court's ruling. The new opinion essentially said that local policies can't limit energy use for products regulated through the federal Energy Policy and Conservation Act – including appliances like gas stoves.

But several states, cities, and environmental groups are pushing back. Oregon and Washington have joined a list of states and groups seeking an "en banc" legal review of that decision, saying it could open the door for legal challenges on issues beyond the use of gas stoves and natural gas lines.

"If this decision stands it could potentially put other public health and safety protections at risk," said Denise Grab, with the Rocky Mountain Institute. "Power shut offs to help prevent wildfires during high risk conditions, it could impact water conservation efforts."

Grab says the court's ruling took many people by surprise, and that the final outcome will likely take months to resolve.

The uncertainty surrounding the decision prompted Washington state officials to pause new building codes that were set to go into effect July 1. Washington's Building Code Council voted during a meeting in late May to delay implementation of the codes until October, citing concerns about the court decision's impact on the legality of some of the new provisions. Part of the new codes include limits on natural gas, and the council ordered its staff to consider how the codes might be modified.

Meanwhile, people opposed to new limits on natural gas hope to use the California ruling as a building block. A group of Washington builders have filed a federal lawsuit, hoping that the California court's ruling will help strike down other local bans on new natural gas use and infrastructure.
Copyright 2023 Northwest News Network. To see more, visit Northwest News Network.

Jeanie Lindsay