- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 9, 2023

The Washington area’s dominant natural gas provider is joining a growing national resistance by fighting an imminent ban on gas stoves for new construction in Montgomery County, Maryland.

Washington Gas has been providing safe, affordable, reliable and secure energy to our customers across the region for almost 175 years, and our goal is to continue to meet the region’s energy needs now and in the future,” utility spokesman Andre Francis told The Washington Times.

Since 2019, Washington Gas has printed 11 templates of a real estate yard sign for builders in Montgomery County to promote the benefits of gas stoves, the utility told The Times. Each sign includes the name and phone number of the builder above a placard that proclaims “natural gas available” as part of a “co-branded marketing program,” Mr. Francis said.

Residents say the signs started appearing outside new homes after county officials moved at the end of last year to implement the East Coast’s first countywide ban on gas stoves, beginning in 2026.

“The signs started appearing around Christmas, when the gas issue was getting a lot of attention,” said Robert Dyer, a real estate blogger who writes about county housing trends.

Nationwide, at least 75 cities and counties have introduced legislation to ban natural gas in new construction, according to the American Gas Association.

Yet 20 states — including Texas, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Hampshire and Arizona — have enacted “energy choice” laws protecting the rights of homeowners to use gas-powered systems, the association said.

“We’re working and trying to rally the whole housing community, both providers and stakeholders, to demand that before these regulations go into place, somebody give us the evidence as to why they’re needed,” said Gerald Howard, CEO of the Washington-based National Association of Home Builders.

Jurisdictions that have banned gas stoves note that the appliances leak methane, a greenhouse gas that environmentalists say contributes to climate change.

“Methane … has 80 times the warming potential over a 20-year period than carbon dioxide. From fracking to transport through pipelines to use in homes or power plants, that methane leaks into the atmosphere, fueling disastrous climate change,” Amneh Minkara, an electric heating advocate at the Sierra Club, said in an email.

Meanwhile, the Inflation Reduction Act, which President Biden signed into law last year, provides federal funds to help jurisdictions convert gas appliances to electricity. The D.C. Council has introduced legislation that would make those tax dollars available to install electric stoves for households earning less than $80,000 a year.

Natural gas proponents have disputed the need for such laws.

“Any push to ban natural gas would raise costs to consumers, jeopardize environmental progress and deny affordable energy to underserved populations,” the American Gas Association said in an email.

Roughly 187 million Americans and 5.8 million businesses — well over half the nation — use natural gas daily, according to the Washington-based trade group, which represents more than 200 utilities.

Natural gas saved those homes and commercial buildings more than $650 billion over the past decade compared with electric heating costs, the association said. The group cites government data showing that gas heating is 92% energy efficient, compared with electricity’s 38% efficiency.

‘The market wants gas’

About 1.1 million people live in Montgomery County, which adjoins the nation’s capital and is Maryland’s most populous county. Most homebuyers there don’t want electric appliances, real estate agents and builders say. They noted a recent uptick in pro-gas property listings.

“We’ve seen more people mentioning gas stoves in their real estate listings because of the new law,” said real estate agent Pat Kilner, whose Potomac brokerage has sold homes in the county for 19 years. “It’s capitalizing on the news of the time, and maybe that’s good marketing for whatever percent of the population really wants a gas stove.”

One recent listing for a new home in Bethesda touts the selling point of a $16,000 antique-style Lacanche French gas range that builders installed in the kitchen.

“The market generally prefers natural gas because it perceives it’s better for cooking, feels nicer on your skin with warmer air coming out of the heating system and is more economical for drying clothes,” said listing agent Carl Becker of Premier Properties, which specializes in building high-end custom homes on vacant lots.

Castlewood Custom Builders, which displayed the Washington Gas sign outside at least one newly constructed home in Montgomery County in recent weeks, declined to comment.

A 2021 study by the National Association of Home Builders found that 51% of homebuyers preferred gas for cooking, compared with 39% who wanted electric heating and 10% who didn’t know or didn’t care. The association of 130,000 builders and developers says it represents 90% of all new housing construction nationwide.

“The market wants gas,” said Mr. Howard, the group’s CEO. “When you get over 50%, that’s what you build for.”

Still, liberal lawmakers in dozens of states, cities and counties have moved in recent years to ban gas in everything from leaf blowers to school buildings.

Berkeley, California, in 2019 became the first U.S. city to ban natural gas appliances, including stoves. The ban applies even to restaurants, an industry exempted from restrictions in Montgomery County and elsewhere.

Last year, Washington state banned gas from new commercial buildings and some residences starting this summer. Massachusetts enacted a law that lets local governments do the same.

The clash to end the use of gas appliances has intensified since the end of last year.

Last month, Richard Trumka Jr., a Biden appointee to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, walked back comments suggesting that the administration would move to restrict gas stoves nationally.

Sens. Joe Manchin III, West Virginia Democrat, and Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, responded by introducing legislation this month that would prevent the federal government from banning gas stoves.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, recently announced a proposal that would make hers the first state to ban gas heating systems and appliances over the next several years.

“I think the legislative authorities want to be seen as do-gooders without factual information in front of them,” said Max Pyziur, a natural gas analyst at the Energy Policy Research Foundation, a Washington think tank. “It’s odd to go after gas stoves since carbon dioxide is not a pollutant and the jury is still out on how lethal gas stoves are.”

Advocates of fossil fuels point out that electric grids rely mostly on coal, natural gas and nuclear power and derive only a small portion from renewable energy such as wind and solar. That means switching to electric stoves isn’t producing green energy.

Besides increasing the values of houses built with gas stoves, economists say, the Montgomery County ban will make it harder for working-class people to buy homes there.

“Montgomery County’s gas ban will, like so many other policies, impact lower-income families the most,” said Dan Sutter, an economist at Troy University in Alabama. “Environmentalism is a luxury good, pursued by the well-off both in the United States and globally.”

Correction: A previous version of this article misidentified carbon dioxide and misstated the kind of air that comes from natural gas heating.

• Sean Salai can be reached at ssalai@washingtontimes.com.

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