The New York City skyline seen from the Summit One Vanderbilt observation deck on Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021. | Jeenah Moon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
The Big Apple just became the biggest city yet to say goodbye to gas hookups in new construction. New York City Council passed a bill today that prohibits the combustion of fossil fuels in new buildings, effectively phasing out the use of gas for cooking and heating.
Addressing building emissions is critical to New York City meeting its climate goals; they’re responsible for 70 percent of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions. The ban will apply to structures under seven stories tall starting in 2024 and to larger buildings in 2027. The measure will drastically cut down on pollution that fuels climate change: according to a recent study by clean energy think tank RMI, it’ll slash 2.1 million tons of CO2 emissions by 2040, which has about the same impact as taking 450,000 cars off the road for a year.
For years, the so-called natural gas industry has sold itself as a cleaner alternative to other fossil fuels like oil. But scientists, and a growing number of cities, are no longer buying the argument. Natural gas is primarily methane, a greenhouse gas that has more than 25 times the global warming effect of carbon dioxide over a 100-year timespan. Methane leaks along the natural supply chain from wells to people’s homes. During a high-profile climate summit in November, the US joined over 100 other countries in pledging to cut methane emissions by 30 percent this decade.
Berkeley, California, became the first city in the US to ban gas hookups in new construction in 2019. Since then, the gas industry has fought back by lobbying for policies that prevent local governments from implementing such bans.
New York City’s new measure, which Mayor Bill de Blasio is expected to sign into law, is significant not only because of the city’s size but because of its colder climate. Gas proponents have argued that it would be too difficult to ax gas heating in places with cold winters because electric heaters might overwhelm the grid and lead to power outages. The bill calls for studies on the feasibility of using heat pump technology and on how the measure will impact the city’s electricity grid.
But the measure already has support from Con Edison, a utility that provides both electricity and gas to New Yorkers. The grid “is well-poised to support the transition to heating electrification,” it said in a November testimony to city council. That’s because the grid usually sees peak demand during the summer when residents blast their air conditioning, it says, and electricity use is typically lower in the winter.
“New York City is taking a massive step off fossil fuels, paving the way for the rest of the state and country to follow,” Food & Water Watch northeast region director Alex Beauchamp said in a statement today.