Postcard from California: How a local natural gas ban sparked a national culture war

By Bill Walker

Like some other once-fringe environmental ideas, this one began in Berkeley: In 2019, the staunchly progressive university town across the bay from San Francisco became the first US city to ban natural gas hookups in most new buildings, citing the fossil fuel’s contribution to the climate crisis.

From Berkeley, the no-new-gas movement spread steadily, one local jurisdiction at a time. As of last month, more than 70 California cities and counties had adopted ordinances mandating all-electric utilities and appliances in new construction. Nationwide, nearly 100 cities and counties, including New York City, Seattle and Montgomery County, Md., have moved to ban gas in new buildings.

But in January, the issue ignited a national political firestorm.

An official of the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) said a ban on gas stoves and ovens was “on the table” because emissions of hazardous air pollutants from gas stoves are strongly linked to childhood asthma. Said CPSC Commissioner Richard Trumka, Jr.: “Products that can’t be made safe can be banned.”

A fierce and hysterical backlash erupted, opening overnight a fresh front in the nation’s culture wars, as many on the right framed the idea as one more liberal assault on American freedom.