City of Berkeley leads nation with ban on natural gas

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Berkeley became the first city in the nation to ban the use of natural gas in newly constructed buildings in August. Since then, many other cities have proposed similar measures in order to reduce their carbon footprint and move toward renewable energy.

According to an email from Stefan Elgstrand, spokesperson for the office of Mayor Jesse Arreguín, the city of Berkeley has “a long history of being an environmental pioneer.” Elgstrand added that Berkeley was the first city to introduce curbside recycling in the 1970s and the first to eliminate plastic foam products in the 1980s.

“At first, there was some skepticism as to the viability of these programs, but history has shown that these groundbreaking ideas became the standard bearer that is now common practice across the country,” Elgstrand said in the email.

According to a Berkeley City Council ordinance, the ban goes into effect in January 2020 and will initially impact single-family homes, small apartments and townhomes. Buildings that are deemed “not physically feasible” to construct without natural gas will be exempt from the policy, according to the ordinance. These buildings must be equipped with the infrastructure to facilitate full electrification in the future, however.

Seattle is one of the cities currently considering the implementation of a similar ordinance. In a video of a conference introducing the bill to the committee, Seattle City Councilmember Mike O’Brien said many people cannot afford to transition their homes off of natural gas and that the legislation is a way to ensure that everyone has a home that does not require natural gas.

“There are a lot of folks that will need some help to do that, and they rely today on natural gas to heat their home,” O’Brien said in the video. “They are victims of the same crisis … The time is right to say, let’s do that and work in the next few years to transition existing buildings off.”

O’Brien added that the natural gas ban reflects not only that the science exists to enact the legislation, but also acknowledges that “it can be done and is already being done.”

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, 35.1 percent of the nation’s electricity generated in 2018 was sourced from natural gas. The Environmental Protection Agency noted that natural gas releases methane, a greenhouse gas that is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 100 year period. According to Elgstrand, natural gas is responsible for 27 percent of Berkeley’s greenhouse gas emissions, which breaks down to 12 percent of emissions from commercial purposes and 15 percent from residential use.

District 4 Councilmember Kate Harrison said these laws are changing the big picture of eco-friendly buildings. She added that as people rebuild their homes, they will realize that natural gas is less cost-efficient.

“Time is running out if we are to address climate change,” Elgstrand said in the email. “We are listening and taking action, and will continue to advocate for environmental policies that are needed to ensure that we have a future for tomorrow’s generations.”

Contact Kaleo Mark and Angelina Wang at [email protected].