Appeals Court Blocks California City’s Natural Gas Hookup Ban

In a unanimous ruling, a federal appeals court has overturned a ban on natural gas hookups in new buildings in Berkeley, California. The court’s decision came after a coalition of California restaurants argued that the ordinance bypassed federal energy laws by essentially banning gas appliances.

In the ruling made by the three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, they cited a 1975 directive that gives Congress control over restrictions on appliances.

The judges agreed that Berkeley’s ban violated the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, which gives the federal government the final say over restrictions on energy appliances including stoves and water heaters.

Although the now-blocked measure did not outrightly ban the use of natural gas appliances, it effected changes to the city’s building code to prohibit gas piping in favor of electrical lines. As a result, gas appliances were rendered “useless,” according to Judge Patrick Bumatay, who wrote the court’s decision.

Per Bumatay, the city overstepped its authority by issuing a ban on gas stoves, as the measure has an impact on the quantity of energy gas stoves consume. That aspect is supposed to be regulated by the federal government.

The California Restaurant Association had fought the ordinance based partly on the implications it could have for the food industry, which needs natural gas appliances “to operate effectively and efficiently.”

The decision is a significant victory for California conservatives, who have been critical of the state’s efforts to ban natural gas appliances. Carl DeMaio, chairman of the conservative political action group Reform California, said that the ruling would not only apply to new construction mandates but would also block “costly home retrofits” that several cities and counties have implemented.

The ruling could have national implications as other states and localities consider similar bans. Democrats have increasingly moved to ban gas stoves while downplaying their efforts. New York is poised to become the first state to ban gas stoves, and California is working towards a statewide ban of its own.

However, the plan might not hold as the court’s decision touches on other environmental policies in California and beyond by establishing federal preemption over state and local efforts to regulate energy appliances.

“States and localities can’t skirt [federal preemption] by doing indirectly what Congress says they can’t do directly,” Bumatay wrote.

While the wider impact of the decision is unclear, as it is unknown how many other cities and states may be impacted, it could serve as a precedent for future legal challenges to similar bans.

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