Builders, unions sue to overturn NY ban on gas hookups in new buildings. What to know

October 16, 2023

Originally published by lohud. Written by Chris Mckenna.

New York’s pioneering plan to ban natural gas use in new buildings to curb planet-warming emissions is being challenged in a new lawsuit that says federal law prevents states from adopting their own energy policies.

The case was filed in federal court on Thursday by trade groups and unions representing builders, propane suppliers, plumbers and electricians. It seeks to void the gas-hookup ban enacted in the state budget in May and set to take effect in two phases, starting in 2026.

The groups that sued contend the ban will endanger their members’ livelihoods. They also claim it will raise energy bills and the cost of new homes, worsening New York’s high living costs.

New York's first-in-the-nation ban on natural-gas hookups means gas-fired heaters and appliances will no longer be installed in new homes and businesses, starting in 2026 for buildings of seven stories or less.

“Our clients are strong supporters of the State’s climate goals, but the ban puts our clients and their members at risk,” Sarah Jorgensen, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in a statement.  “A mandate banning gas now is not reasonable or affordable, when New York’s grid is already overburdened.  And regardless, New York must comply with the law.”

Supporters of the ban say it’s needed to meet those climate goals because buildings produce 32% of New York’s total greenhouse gas emissions. They also dispute the cost claims, saying that homes built with heat pumps or geothermal systems for heating and electric water heaters, stoves and dryers instead of gas-fired products will save consumers an estimated $1,000 a year.

“New York’s landmark ban on fossil fuels in new buildings is a victory for our communities, health and climate,” Alex Beauchamp, northeast region director for the environmental group Food & Water, said in a statement. “Efforts to reopen this done and dusted issue amount to nothing more than a last-ditch effort to keep fossil fuels relevant in a changing world.”

“Governor Hochul must stand strong in the face of this archaic assault — our gas ban is here to stay,” Beauchamp said.

New York is the first state to set a deadline for new gas hookups. If upheld in court, the policy will take effect in 2026 for new buildings of seven stories or less and in 2029 for taller buildings and businesses larger than 100,000 square feet. Among the many exceptions: hospitals, factories, commercial food establishments, laboratories, car washes and laundromats.

The law doesn’t affect existing homes and businesses, which could continue to use gas-powered heaters and appliances and replace them when necessary.

The east side of the Albany State Capitol building Jan. 17, 2021.

The court case argues New York had no power to set those rules under a 1975 federal law known as the Energy Policy and Conservation Act. That law, adopted in the wake of an oil embargo that drove up gas prices, precluded states from adopting their own energy policies, the plaintiffs’ attorneys argue.

They cite a federal appeals court ruling in April that struck down a 2020 gas ban by the city of Berkeley, California.

New York City has its own gas ban that is due to take effect two years before the state’s. Adopted by the City Council in 2021, that policy is set to begin next year for buildings of seven stories or less and in 2027 for taller buildings.

Most of Westchester County has had a moratorium on gas hookups since 2019 because of supply shortage. That means homes and businesses built in those areas for the last four years are fully electric.