To Ann Arbor Sustainability and Innovations Director Missy Stults, banning gas stove hookups in the city’s new construction is a way to protect the city’s residents.
Beside the fact that every new gas line undermines Ann Arbor’s plan to go carbon neutral by 2030, stoves and furnaces powered by gas are polluting the air inside residents’ homes.
While it will take time to phase out the gas already in-use in Ann Arbor homes and businesses, she said, “we’ve got to stop putting more gas into the system.”
Two-hundred miles north in Manton, Sen. Michele Hoitenga wants to stop Ann Arbor’s ban before it starts. The former owner of a natural gas consulting business, Hoitenga is one of three state Republican lawmakers who have introduced or plan to introduce bills that would prohibit local bans on the use of natural gas or installation of new gas infrastructure.
The bills have no chance of passing in a legislature controlled by Democrats, Hoitenga acknowledged, “but I believe that we can make a statement.”
“I know what this looks like,” she said. “We are going to have the wind turbines, and we are going to have the solar panels on our farmlands and in our rural areas of Michigan to power their agenda in the city.”
Welcome to the latest front in America’s climate action culture wars.
The gas skirmish in Michigan reflects a political dispute that’s been playing out nationally for years, as progressive cities eye building electrification as a lynchpin of their climate action plans, and conservative lawmakers try to block those efforts. Twenty-one states have passed bills to preempt local gas bans.
A new peer-reviewed study last month added fuel to the political flames by estimating that gas stoves cause one-in-eight childhood asthma cases nationwide. It was the latest in decades of research associating gas-burning stoves with respiratory health problems.
Soon after, a member of the Consumer Product Safety Commission sparked political backlash from the right when he suggested the agency could soon ban new gas stoves. The commission chair later clarified that a ban is not on the table, but by then the controversy had taken on a life of its own.
The American Public Gas Association released a statement criticizing the research and lauding “the many benefits that the direct use of natural gas provides.” U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland, introduced federal legislation to block any future federal ban. State Rep. Dale Zorn and Sen. Joe Bellino introduced similar legislation in Lansing. And Hoitenga took to Facebook, where her followers responded with outrage.
“They will pry my cold dead hands from my frying pan,” wrote Edward Dracht.
“No way,” wrote Mark Sassin. “I'll cook over a campfire or wood fired grill first.”
“I dislike cooking on a gas stove,” wrote Suly Mitchell, “but government is not gonna tell me I can't.”
In Ann Arbor, a left-leaning city with a strong environmental movement, the dialogue about gas looks far different. A city planning commission meeting to discuss a possible ban on gas in new construction attracted support from climate activists and critiques from the building industry.
Beyond impacts on indoor air quality, natural gas is primarily made of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that has caused about 30 percent of global temperature rise since the industrial revolution. Though methane dissipates from the air far faster than carbon dioxide, it is 80 times more effective at trapping heat.
The U.S. and dozens of other world governments have pledged to slash methane emission 30 percent by the end of this decade, amid a deepening climate crisis marked by floods, heat waves, famine, glacier loss and sea level rise.
Natural gas is a big industry in Michigan, which has more underground gas storage capacity than any other state. It provides more than a quarter of Michiganders’ electricity, heats more than three-quarters of Michigan homes and is used for cooking in nearly half.
Each new gas connection, Stults said, reinforces Michigan’s fossil fuel dependence at a time when society should be moving in the opposite direction. The average household gas furnace lasts 15 to 20 years. Gas stoves come in at about 15.
Equipping new buildings with electrical heat and cooking prepares them to run on renewable power as utilities replace coal plants with wind and solar arrays. Eventually, Stults predicted, gas will not be a viable option.
“It’s better to do it right the first time than to have to go retrofit and pay those expenses to pull out the gas,” Stults said.
City officials would pair the ban on new hookups with incentives for existing gas customers who want to make the switch to electric, she said.
The Home Builders Association of Michigan opposes the Ann Arbor proposal, which it contends would limit customer choice and create a patchwork of regulations that makes life difficult for builders.
“We have a uniform code structure in our state,” said Robert Filka, the association’s chief executive officer. “We're not afraid of a debate over that issue, but you need to have it at a statewide level.”
Ann Arbor is the only Michigan city openly considering a ban on new gas hookups, said John LaMacchia, assistant director of state and federal affairs for the Michigan Municipal League.
While the league has yet to take a formal position on the Republican bills that would block such bans, LaMacchia said his group generally believes local governments have a right “to deal with the unique situations in their community, and respond to their residents accordingly.”
Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks, D-Grand Rapids, shared that sentiment in a Thursday interview with Bridge.
“I’m not a big fan of bans on bans in general,” Brinks said. “So I don’t anticipate that (the state Republican bills) will get much airtime.”
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