By Brynn Furey
To repower our society with 100 percent renewable energy, we need to electrify our buildings. With electricity, we can hook our buildings up to a green grid that will eventually get all of its energy from the sun, the wind and the Earth. As they work to repower with clean energy, forward-looking cities, counties and towns, such as San Francisco, Seattle and New York City, are leading a growing movement to envision fossil fuel-free, electric buildings of the future.
To reach a clean energy future, however, we must stop burning fossil fuels in our homes and commercial buildings. Perhaps then, it’s not entirely surprising that the powerful gas industry is fighting tooth and nail to stop cities and municipalities from replacing in-building gas with electricity. They understand electric, no-gas buildings present them with an existential threat.
According to NPR, the industry’s lobbyists are rushing to state legislatures across the country to halt the building electrification movement in its tracks. Correctly recognizing the existential threat posed to their industry by building electrification, they are trying to get ahead of the movement and proactively strip communities all across America of the freedom to restrict fossil fuel use in buildings. And unfortunately, because of the industry’s influence and power in state legislatures, their approach is working.
Over the past two years, gas companies and other special interest groups have thrown their weight behind a series of bills across the country that would preempt efforts by local governments to limit the use of gas hookups in buildings. But preempting local control over energy decisions is just one tactic they are using to try to lock us into fossil fuel use despite its damaging impact on our health and our environment. The industry has also tried to undermine the power of local officials to influence the model building code set by the International Code Council (ICC).
The anti-clean energy bills they are backing in more than 16 states are dangerously vague, potentially far-reaching and advancing like a fast-moving prairie fire through their respective legislatures. Last year, this type of legislation successfully passed in four states — Arizona, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Tennessee — and so far this year, Arkansas, Kentucky and Utah have codified bills as well.
It is well-documented that burning fossil fuels in our homes and businesses is bad for us and our planet. Burning fossil fuels in our homes pollutes the air we breathe outside as well as inside. Every time we turn on a gas-powered stove, air quality in our buildings worsens. Gas stoves alone may be exposing tens of millions of Americans to levels of indoor air pollution that would be illegal outdoors. This kind of air pollution is linked to health problems including respiratory illness, heart attack, stroke and cancer.
Fossil fuel use in homes remains widespread. Three out of four American homes still directly burn fossil fuels for heating, hot water or to run appliances. In 2018, nearly 9 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions came from the direct combustion of fossil fuels. And the gas companies are doing everything in their power to keep it that way.
But there is a different path forward.
According to a new report from Environment America Research & Policy Center and U.S. PIRG Education Fund, efficient, electric technology is ready for widespread deployment across America. Electrifying a majority of our homes and businesses by 2050 could reduce net emissions by an amount equivalent to taking about 65 million cars off the road. That’s equal to getting rid of almost one-fourth of the total number of cars in the U.S. in 2019. That’s a lot of averted air pollution which means less asthma and less of the pollution that’s warming our planet in dangerous ways.
More and more, Americans are signing onto a vision of repowering our country with clean renewable energy. Wind and solar power continue to exceed expectations, and thanks to leadership at the state and local level, one in three Americans lives in a community committed to 100 percent renewable energy. And with advances in electric technologies like heat pumps, water heaters and induction stoves, clean efficient electric technologies are within reach for more and more people every day.
America has all the tools we need to make our buildings fossil fuel-free, which is a vital step in reducing pollution and avoiding the worst impacts of climate change. But if gas companies have it their way, someday soon many Americans will live in a community that wants to act on climate by electrifying their homes, buildings and businesses — but can’t because the industry has tied their hands behind their back.
As of today, anti-electric building bills are moving through the legislature in 12 states: Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, West Virginia and Wyoming. People living in those states can take action by calling their legislators to let them know that they do not support any effort to take away the right of their community to decide their own clean electric energy future.
Let’s not let special interests steamroll state lawmakers into trampling on the freedom of our local communities to choose a cleaner future for the people who live there. Our communities should maintain their right to choose efficient, electric buildings.
Brynn Furey is the Energy Conservation and Efficiency Associate for Environment America.