Some US Cities Move to Limit Natural Gas Use
Cities in the American states of California, Washington and Massachusetts are considering bans or limits on the use of natural gas in homes and buildings.
The bans, if approved, could affect heating systems in large buildings and even cooking stoves in homes.
In July, Berkeley, California, became the first U.S. city to pass a law banning gas systems in new buildings.
Reuters news agency spoke with local officials, activists and industry groups about the issue. They told Reuters other cities may soon do the same. Los Angeles and Seattle are among the cities considering laws that could cut natural gas use.
Local officials and environmentalists point to evidence that gas leaking from pipes and other places hurts the climate more than carbon dioxide.
Carbon dioxide gas is released when carbon-based fuels are burned. Carbon dioxide is considered a heat-trapping gas that causes the Earth's atmosphere to warm.
A "bridge fuel" to cleaner energy
Until recently, many environmentalists considered natural gas to be a "bridge fuel" to a future of renewable energy.
U.S. utilities currently get about 35 percent of their electricity from natural gas. However, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) notes that utilities have increased their use of renewable fuels in the past 10 years, from 9 to 17 percent of all power.
The Environmental Protection Agency says buildings and homes produce about 12 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Greenhouse gases are heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere.
If natural gas bans in buildings become widespread, they could hurt the business plans of some of the world's biggest energy companies.
Companies like Exxon Mobil, Shell and BP are investing billions of dollars to produce and ship more natural gas. Big gas producers argue that gas improves the environment by replacing fuels, such as coal, that pollute more.
Natural gas companies oppose bans. They have started an advertising campaign and supported research that says gas is a better cooking fuel and a low-cost energy option.
"We are trying to get ahead of it," said Stuart Saulters, the Director of Government Affairs of the American Public Gas Association. He added that he thought there was a chance that the push for bans could grow larger.
The American Petroleum Institute (API) represents the U.S. oil and gas industry. The API rejects claims that natural gas is bad for the environment.
API spokesman Reid Porter said that the industry is limiting methane emissions with improved technology. He pointed to data from the Environmental Protection Agency showing a decrease in recent years.
Seattle City Council Member Mike O'Brien is working on a law that could ban gas hookups in new buildings. The fuel, he said, "is odorless and invisible but has a huge impact on the climate."
In July, a group called Californians for Balanced Energy Solutions held a press conference. The group was formed by Sempra Energy which owns a gas company. The group invited Southern California restaurant owners who use gas stoves.
Charles Lu, who took part in the event, owns a Chinese restaurant chain. "We need instant, really strong fire," he said. "Otherwise, I think it will kill the business."
Wealthier homeowners may also resist electrification of kitchens and fireplaces, said Nic Dunfee of the environmental advising business TRC Companies.
He told a recent meeting of California energy officials that home builders are pushing back against proposed laws requiring electric stoves.
"They don't feel that they are able to sell a home that doesn't have natural-gas cooking," he said.
I'm John Russell.
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