Originally published by Energy In Depth on Feb. 8, 2023
Environmental groups and electrification supporters are working with local government officials to pass natural gas bans in their communities, according to new emails uncovered by Energy Policy Advocates and reported by The Washington Times.
The emails shed light on the national campaign and coordination behind the scenes as anti-natural gas activists have targeted government officials in states all across the country, Oregon, Washington, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.
A Coordinated Affair
Through a public records request, Energy Policy Advocates unearthed a strategy session organized by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund in 2019, which paired dozens of high-ranking officials with green energy groups to devise ways to accelerate the elimination of natural gas in their communities and electrify homes and buildings.
The agenda boasted that it was an opportunity to “to strategize together on the most promising ways to accelerate the pace of implementation in response to the increasingly ambitious climate goals being established by these states’ governors and state legislatures.”
Additionally, notes from the event suggest there was consensus that “states need a roadmap for how to get off natural gas,” and “buildings may be the best first target for moving beyond gas” (emphasis added). The notes were written by the director for the sustainable development grantmaking program at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, a major funder of national anti-fossil fuel groups such as RMI, Energy Foundation, and Sierra Club.
A Silent Wave of Bans
The effort fits within green groups’ broader strategy to keep the conversation outside of public debate and prevent the kind of backlash that was created recently when U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commissioner Richard Trumka called for a ban on gas stoves. Both the CPSC and the White House quickly tried to tamp down the concern by claiming no federal ban was on the table, but subsequent reporting suggests that may not be the case.
Electrification activists have carefully tried to avoid talk of a natural gas “ban” while nonetheless still pushing for building codes that are functionally equivalent to a ban. In 2020, activists admitted to the change in their tactics to avoid the proposals being debated by the individuals they affected:
“I think that the term gas ban might not work” beyond California, said Jenna Tatum, director of the Building Electrification Initiative, a group that helps its eight-member cities advance electrification efforts. “But I think that a policy that encourages or requires all electric new construction works everywhere.”
Put differently: push for bans, but don’t say you’re calling for a ban.
Currently over 100 municipalities have restricted natural gas access in some manner, including a number of states represented at the Rockefellers Brothers Fund meeting. Many of these restrictions have been passed through building code updates that allowed gas ban supporters to do an end run around state legislatures and voters.
Connecting the Dots:
As reported by the Washington Times, the following officials attended the Pocantico meeting in New York, and coincidentally are in states with proposed limits on natural gas.
- Who: Dale Bryk, then New York state’s deputy secretary for energy and environment
- State Status: In her State of the State address, Gov. Hochul backed a ban on natural gas connections to all new buildings by 2027, a phase out of natural gas in existing residential buildings by 2030, and an eventual end to the use of gas stoves in new construction.
- Who: Nik Blosser, then chief of staff in the Oregon governor’s office.
- State Status: Kate Brown signed legislation as governor in 2021 requiring the state’s two power companies to provide plans for reducing emissions by 80% in 2030 and 100% in 2040.
- Who: Janet Coit, who at the time was director of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management.
- State Status: The state Public Utilities Commission, or PUC, has opened a docket to investigate the future of the gas distribution business.
- Who: Chris Davis, senior adviser to Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.
- State Status: The Washington legislature failed to pass Gov. Jay Inslee’s 2021 gas ban attempt out of committee when it was last introduced, but on April 22, Washington State’s unelected Building Code Council adopted two revisions to the state’s energy code, blocking natural gas appliances for space and water heating in large buildings.
- Who: Katie Dykes, Connecticut commissioner for the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
- State Status: Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, a Democrat, signed a bill in May setting a goal of establishing a zero-carbon electric grid in the state by 2040.
- Who: Kathleen Frangione, chief policy adviser to New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy.
- State Status: Mr. Murphy hired the Rocky Mountain Institute to serve as a primary consultant on the state’s five-year energy master plan. The plan, released in 2020, provides a blueprint to “achieve 100% clean energy by 2050,” in part by electrifying all new and existing buildings, reducing energy consumption, and establishing offshore wind and community solar programs to replace natural gas and other fossil fuels.
Bottomline: Emails link anti-fossil fuel activists to many of the local bans on gas stoves and other appliances happening across the country. But their efforts to keep the “ban” conversation largely out of the public purview was undone when a CPSC commissioner admitted they were considering a ban on gas stoves, which in turn has alerted voters across the country to what these building codes really mean.
For more information on the various tactics employed by the campaign to ban gas stoves, furnaces, water heaters, and other appliances:
- The bans going around the legislative process 
- The poor research presented by activists to promote electrification   
- Environmental organizations adopting climate litigation tactics to push gas bans 
- States and municipalities looking to electrify, including: California  ; Washington ; Oregon ; New York  ; New Jersey ; Massachusetts  ; Maryland ; and Minnesota and Michigan .