Protect gas stoves? NC bill would prevent local bans on natural gas hookups

February 23, 2023

Story by Adam Wagner, originally published in The Charlotte Observer

Members of North Carolina’s House of Representatives are again seeking legislation that would prevent counties and municipal governments from banning the use of natural gas or any other form of energy to heat buildings or power appliances.

At least 20 states have passed similar so-called “preemption laws.” In North Carolina, a bill failed in the 2021-22 session following a veto from Gov. Roy Cooper.

That might not work this year, as House Bill 130 is co-sponsored by Rep. Michael Wray, a Northampton County Democrat. Republicans are one vote away from a veto-proof majority in the House, meaning that legislators could override a veto if Wray joins Republicans in a vote that otherwise goes along party lines.

Wray did not explain his stance to a reporter despite multiple attempts for comment.

Rep. Dean Arp, a Union County Republican who is a primary sponsor of the legislation, said he believes it is important for consumers to be able to choose how to power their homes and appliances.

“I think it just makes sense. It’s common-sense legislation. It’s very simple. It doesn’t decide what the policy is; it says who decides the policy,” Arp said.

Arp also said he believes it makes more sense to have a consistent law across the state instead of a potential “patchwork” of local ordinances.

If HB 130 passes the House, it would also need to be voted on by the Senate, where Republicans hold a veto-proof majority.

Cooper’s 2021 veto message said preventing governments from banning natural gas or other energy sources “wrongly strips local authority” while also hampering the state’s ability to move toward fossil fuel-free energy sources.

“The Governor vetoed similar legislation last year and will review legislation that reaches his desk,” Sam Chan, a Cooper spokeswoman, wrote in a statement.

Local bans elsewhere, but none known in NC

Progressive cities across the country like Berkeley, California, and New York City have moved to ban or limit natural gas connections, citing concerns about climate impacts.

It is unlikely that any governments in North Carolina have tried to ban the use of natural gas or any other form of energy in new or renovated homes. Both the N.C. Association of County Commissioners and the N.C. League of Municipalities are unaware of any such efforts.

Neither the association nor the league have taken a stance on the legislation.

Professional groups that support the bill include the N.C. Chamber, N.C. Home Builders Association and N.C. Retail Merchants Association, Arp said.

Andy Ellen, president and general counsel of the Retail Merchants Association, said his organization supports the legislation because it has members that sell gas appliances like stoves or water heaters. Some customers want to include those in their homes, Ellen said, or are familiar with them if they are moving from an area where gas appliances are more common.

“Our members want to make sure they can serve their customers in the way that they want,” Ellen said.

Furthermore, Ellen said, it makes sense for the General Assembly to act before a local government tries to pass such an ordinance.

“I don’t think that we should necessarily wait on one to try to do it,” Ellen said. “Then that puts the General Assembly in a reactionary mode.”

Gas stoves vs. electric

In 2020, 15% of North Carolina homes had gas stoves, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration data. That’s about 590,000 homes.

Most homes in the state had electric stoves.

Electricity heats 68% of North Carolina homes, according to the EIA. By comparison, natural gas is the fuel source for heating in 24% of the state’s homes, or nearly a million buildings.

Gas stoves have long been a concern for environmental groups and scientists, who express concerns about the impacts nitrogen dioxide coming from the appliance can have on human health. Additionally, there are worries that burning methane adds the high-powered greenhouse gas to the environment.

Those concerns became a point of controversy earlier this year, after U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commissioner Richard Trumka told Bloomberg the agency could ban gas stoves due to concerns about indoor air pollution. The American Public Health Association called gas stoves “a public health concern” in a November 2022 statement, noting that high nitrogen dioxide levels indoors have been linked with respiratory effects such as asthma.

There are lingering questions about whether North Carolina’s municipalities even have the ability to ban natural gas connections.

“I don’t think they have the authority to do that,” Arp said. “This will clarify that.”