Natural Gas Groups Test Strategy to Overturn Local Gas Bans

The American Gas Association is campaigning to overturn a natural gas ban in Eugene, Oregon, setting a framework for challenges to bans in other states.

Eugene, Oregon, is currently ground zero in the transition from natural gas. Interest groups, such as the American Gas Association (AGA), have successfully garnered enough signatures to force a referendum on the city’s recent natural gas prohibition for new construction. The AGA has already spent nearly $900,000 on the referendum and announced they are prepared to invest up to $4 million. If successful, the gas industry will have developed a playbook to challenge similar prohibitions in other states.


Berkley, California, enacted the first ban on natural gas in 2019. Since then, over 100 jurisdictions on both coasts moved forward with similar policies.

The scope and shape of these ordinances usually take one of two routes: direct outright prohibitions or restrictive efficiency standards. The former approach has been controversial, as some contend that state and local governments do not have the power to outright ban natural gas and are preempted under the federal Energy Policy and Conservation Act. Recently, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit struck down Berkley’s ban, citing the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, spelling trouble for jurisdictions that have taken a similarly targeted approach.

According to Berkleyside,

“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,” wrote Judge Patrick J. Bumatay, one of two Trump appointees on the randomly assigned panel. (The third was a Reagan appointee.) Bumatay wrote that the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, or EPCA, preempts state and local regulations concerning the energy use of natural gas appliances.

Jurisdictions that have opted for the latter approach, a greater focus on overall efficiency, have so far seen less resistance. New York is currently considering a first-in-the-nation statewide zero-emission construction standard. If enacted, the new requirements would be phased in, with buildings under seven stories needing to comply by 2025. Taller buildings would have a deadline of 2028. Notably, the proposed deal does not include a restriction on the future expansion of gas utilities – underlining the importance of the efficiency vs. the outright ban approach.

The AGA believes that if they can overturn an ordinance in a liberal-leaning pro-environment jurisdiction such as Eugene, they can use their strategy as a model to overturn local bans in other jurisdictions, i.e., Maryland. Even though data continually shows the negative impact of natural gas on health and the environment, AGA messaging focuses on its purported use as a clean energy source and its role in preserving consumer choice.

Local leaders and environmental activists contend that transitioning toward other fuel sources comes with a multitude of benefits. All-electric houses can be significantly cheaper to produce than comparable homes with natural gas (an important fact in a national housing crisis). Additionally, cooking with natural gas has been linked to lower indoor air quality and higher rates of childhood asthma. The most basic argument is that burning natural gas releases emissions that undeniably change our climate.

Impact on Maryland

Montgomery and Howard Counties are two of the first jurisdictions in the Mid-Atlantic, and the first in Maryland, to adopt outright bans on natural gas in new building construction.

Montgomery’s ban goes into effect in 2027, with nearly all new construction being fully electrified (with a few minor exceptions). The full scope of Howard’s policy is yet to be decided and could go into effect even sooner. Howard’s ordinance directs the county Department of Inspections, Licenses and Permits to submit recommendations for electrification to the County Council by the end of 2023 in the hope that they will be included in the ongoing building code update.

It is unclear how the decision in the Berkely case will impact Montgomery and Howard in the short term. If these ordinances are initially struck down, other avenues remain to push electrification forward.

On the state level, the General Assembly adopted the Climate Solutions Now Act of 2022. This generational shift in environmental policy encompassed a multitude of areas, including electrification. Several provisions within the law lay the groundwork for full electrification in the next few decades.

Maryland’s neighbor to the south, Washington, DC, also enacted a natural ban last summer, prohibiting natural gas in new construction from 2026 onward. The DC policy prohibits “on-site fuel combustion” except for the fuel combustion for backup power generators in “buildings that are essential to protecting public health and safety,” according to NPR.

A Closing Thought

The American Gas Association (AGA) is testing a strategy to push back against local government autonomy in service to their bottom line. Maryland’s well-balanced system of local decision making has for decades been the secret to the state’s environmental and economic development successes. As the climate crisis intensifies, counties will ultimately be the leaders in both climate change mitigation and response. Preserving local autonomy is central to Maryland’s future success in fighting climate change.

Read the related Washington Post article.