City of Berkeley sued by California Restaurant Association regarding natural gas ban

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The California Restaurant Association filed a lawsuit against the city of Berkeley on Thursday regarding the city’s decision to ban natural gas in new buildings starting January 2020, as first reported by Berkeleyside.

The decision was made in July when Berkeley became the first city in the United States to ban natural gas pipes in new buildings. This legislation is part of the city’s Climate Action Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“With millions of Californians sitting in the dark to avoid wildfires, and California’s energy grid under historic strain, banning the use of natural gas … does little to advance climate goals,” the lawsuit alleged.

The lawsuit further alleged that banning natural gas is “irresponsible” and not a solution to climate goals. It also alleged that the city of Berkeley bypassed federal and state law to become the first all-electric city in California.

Twenty-five percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in Berkeley come from natural gas use in residential and commercial buildings, according to Ben Gould, chair of the Community Environmental Advisory Commission.

“This is clearly unsustainable: Berkeley has adopted the goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% below 1990 levels, achieving carbon neutrality, and becoming a fossil-fuel-free city,” Gould said in an email. “None of these can be achieved without dramatic reductions in our carbon footprint, including reducing – and ultimately eliminating – natural gas use in buildings.”

The federal Energy Policy and Conservation Act regulates the energy efficiency of appliances and does not permit one type of energy to be favored over another, alleged the lawsuit. The lawsuit also claimed that state law prevents the Berkeley ordinance, requiring a procedure to be followed if a city seeks to implement regulations on building standards and energy usage.

“The lawsuit is about asking the city to comply with the law,” said Courtland Reichman, an attorney for the California Restaurant Association, in an email.

According to Gould, the ordinance only affects new buildings, so existing restaurants will not be affected. He added that a number of restaurants around the world have voluntarily chosen to enact similar policies as there is seems to be “no shortage of electric kitchen appliances.”

Many restaurants and chefs rely on natural gas for cooking and to provide a reliable and affordable source of energy, Reichman said. These restaurants will see their costs increase under a ban, Reichman alleged.

Gould alleged that the association’s lawsuit does not appear as if it has strong grounds and that he expects it will “fail” at both the state and federal levels.

On a similar note, the city is confident that its limitations on natural gas infrastructure in new buildings comply with all relevant laws, according to city attorney Farimah Faiz Brown in a statement.

“The City will vigorously defend the ordinance against the California Restaurant Association’s lawsuit,” Brown said in the statement.

Contact Thao Nguyen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @tnguyen_dc.