Berkeley natural gas ban faces pushback from California Restaurant Association

Photo of restaurant in Berkeley
Joshua Jordan/File
After the enactment of a natural gas ban, the California Restaurant Association filed a lawsuit against Berkeley. Both sides argued their cases during a hearing Tuesday.

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More than a year after the California Restaurant Association, or CRA, filed a lawsuit against the city of Berkeley regarding a ban on natural gas pipes, both sides argued their cases during a hearing Tuesday.

The CRA sued the city in November 2019 after Berkeley became the first city in the United States to ban natural gas pipes for new buildings a few months prior in August.

An issue argued during the hearing was about whether or not Berkeley bypassed federal and state law in order to enact the ban. The federal law in question was the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, or EPCA, which does not allow one type of energy to be favored over another, according to the lawsuit.

As a representative for the CRA, attorney Courtland Reichman argued that Berkeley’s intention was to ban gas appliances and that they are working around the law by banning gas pipes instead, violating the EPCA.

“When you look at EPCA, it says that if you have an impact on the gas that is used by an appliance, you can’t do it,” Reichman said. “If that’s the law, even if Berkeley really, really believes that it’s right in terms of climate change — I value what they’re saying — even if they are right, defying the law is not the way to get there.”

However, Christopher Jensen, Berkeley assistant city attorney, said the federal law, both in text and intent, does not suggest a prohibition on the regulations Berkeley is enacting. Instead, he said, it was enacted to “regulate energy efficiency of appliances.”

According to Jensen, the ordinance was made to prevent health issues from indoor air contamination due to natural gas and to address environmental concerns.

“These are traditional health and safety concerns that cities are allowed to regulate and have always been allowed to regulate,” Jensen said.

He added that the city was intending to move away from natural gas usage, as it will possibly become obsolete in the near future.

The lawsuit, among other things, states that the ban would harm restaurants where chefs are trained in using gas, those serving international dishes and ones that require natural gas for methods such as charring or cooking in a wok.

The judge presiding over the case, U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers, has not yet issued a ruling.

Contact Natalie Lu at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @natalie_c_lu.