- Twenty-six local government leaders in California — including those from the major cities of San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Jose — are calling on Gov. Gavin Newsom to urgently pursue statewide standards requiring new buildings to be all-electric rather than burn fossil fuels on site for uses such as cooking and space and water heating.
- The local leaders sent a letter to Newsom on Friday pointing to “significant challenges” caused by an April federal appeals court decision to overturn Berkeley, California’s first-in-the-nation ban on gas hookups in new construction.
- Newsom must step in with a “unified state standard,” otherwise “many municipalities will be forced to backtrack on progress cutting emissions from buildings, due to insufficient resources to fight frivolous and opportunistic lawsuits,” according to the letter.
Since Berkeley became the first U.S. city to ban gas hookups in new construction in 2019, dozens of municipalities nationwide have followed suit in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and stop expanding fossil fuel infrastructure.
But building decarbonization efforts face formidable foes.
The fossil fuel and building industries have pursued lawsuits to overturn local and state gas bans, and experts warn that cities and counties should prepare for more legal challenges.
The overturning of Berkeley’s “gas ban” was a victory for opponents and created uncertainty for other municipalities that have similar local building electrification rules in the Ninth Circuit, the jurisdiction in which the federal appeals court ruling took place. The Ninth Circuit includes Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.
“This decision could impact many of the more than 75 municipalities in California that have adopted some form of building electrification requirement through their local codes,” California local government leaders argued in their letter to Newsom. “The best path forward in light of recent legal challenges is to follow the lead of local jurisdictions and pursue statewide implementation of common-sense clean emission measures for buildings.”
The city of Berkeley has requested a rehearing of the case, with the backing of the Biden administration. The group of local government leaders expressed hope that the ruling would be overturned, but it noted that the urgency of the climate crisis does not allow for delays.
“Even though legal pathways still exist for local jurisdictions to act and many are confident that CRA v Berkeley will eventually be overturned due to its extremely broad ruling, that could take years — but as we all know, our state and climate do not have years to waste,” the letter states.
The letter recommends that California require zero-emission buildings through its existing mandatory green building standards code, an option suggested in the California Air Resources Board’s 2022 plan for achieving carbon neutrality.
The letter alleges that California, a longtime climate policy leader, has fallen behind on building decarbonization. New York surpassed California when in May it became the first state to ban on-site burning of fossil fuels in most new buildings.
“We simply cannot wait any longer for a unified state standard that ensures our homes and buildings are powered by clean energy and efficient, electric appliances,” the letter says. It states that in California, climate pollution from residential buildings has gone down just 3% in the last two decades, and commercial building emissions have “increased dramatically.”
“Local cities and counties across California, including Los Angeles County, are leading the way in establishing zero-emission building standards for healthier communities,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Lindsey Horvath in a statement. “It’s now time for the state to do the same, getting us that much closer to reaching California’s 2030 climate targets and modeling for other cities what’s possible and necessary.”
Correction: The previous image caption for this article misstated the number of local government leaders that signed the letter to Gov. Newsom. Twenty-six leaders signed the letter.