Real Estate

Federal court strikes down a California city’s natural gas ban

flames burn on a natural gas-burning stove.
Scott Olson | Getty Images

A federal appeals court ruled Monday that Berkeley, California, cannot enforce a ban on natural gas hookups in new buildings, saying a U.S. federal law preempts the city’s regulation.

The ruling from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco was a response to a case from 2019 by the California Restaurant Association against the city of Berkeley. In the appeal, the three-judge panel said the U.S. Energy Policy Conservation Act of 1975 preempts the city’s ban on the installation of natural gas piping within new construction.

“By completely prohibiting the installation of natural gas piping within newly constructed buildings, the City of Berkeley has waded into a domain preempted by Congress,” Judge Patrick Bumatay, a Trump appointee, wrote for the panel.

The decision could have ramifications for efforts by other cities and counties in California to ban natural gas appliances in new buildings to help reduce climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions. A few dozen cities across the country, including San Francisco, New York City, San Jose, Seattle, and Cambridge, Massachusetts, have also moved to ban natural gas hookups in some new buildings, citing environmental and health reasons.

All three judges on the panel were Republican appointees. The ruling reversed a 2021 decision by a U.S. district judge who had blocked the challenge to the city’s ban.

Commercial and residential buildings account for about 13% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, mainly from the use of gas appliances. And some researchers found that children in homes with gas stoves are at greater risk of asthma and other health issues.

However, states such as Texas and Arizona have barred cities from imposing natural gas bans and argued that consumers should have the right to choose their energy sources.

Jot Condie, president and chief executive of the California Restaurant Association, in a statement said the city’s ordinance is an overreaching measure beyond the scope of any city and that it would limit the variety of cuisine that restaurants can offer.

“Natural gas appliances are crucial for restaurants to operate effectively and efficiently,” Condie said. “Cities and states cannot ignore federal law in an effort to constrain consumer choice, and it is encouraging that the Ninth Circuit upheld this standard.”

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