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San Francisco Bans Natural Gas in New Construction

San Francisco supervisors have approved a ban on natural gas in newly constructed buildings in the city. The city joins at least 30 others across the state implementing such a ban.

Natural gas is a combustible fossil-fuel super pollutant typically used in buildings for heating, cooling, and cooking. Proponents of the legislation say favoring cleaner, all-electric buildings in new construction will increase building safety, reduce emissions citywide, and improve indoor air quality.

“This legislation will make San Francisco a healthier and safer city, and also represents a significant step toward reaching our climate goals,” said District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, when he introduced the bill in June. “The science is clear that we must act boldly and quickly if we are to avoid the worst consequences of climate change over the coming decades. The ordinance I am introducing today will put San Francisco at the forefront of efforts to reduce, and ultimately eliminate, this dangerous and significant source of greenhouse gas emissions.”

Starting June 2021, residential and commercial buildings must submit building applications that will design and build without any natural gas infrastructure. Exceptions may be granted for narrowly defined feasibility reasons. The ordinance does not impact existing buildings, additions, or alterations.

The ordinance is only the latest in a series of initiatives to reduce emissions from the City’s buildings, which generate over 42% of the City’s total greenhouse gases. In 2019, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, authored by Supervisor Mandelman, passed a resolution to declare a climate emergency in San Francisco. In 2020, under Supervisor Mandelman’s leadership, San Francisco adopted new building code legislation that favored electrification over natural gas. Additionally, the City enacted policy to eliminate natural gas in new construction for municipal buildings.

“Considering that buildings are major contributors to greenhouse gases, this new legislation will help in lowering emissions in newly constructed buildings throughout San Francisco,” said Patrick O’Riordan, Interim Director for the Department of Building Inspection. “As the regulatory building agency, we will work with our city partners and the building community to implement any new regulations that help the City meet its sustainability goals.”

Not everyone is in favor of the new rule. In a statement, the Golden Gate Restaurant Association said: “We completely understand the need for a focus on the reduction of greenhouse emissions. However, we have real concerns that a gas ban in new buildings would put additional restrictions on the spaces available for restaurants.”

Critics also point to the number of PG&E power shut-offs recently as a warning that now is not the time to go all-electric.

“The state of California doesn’t have the ability to meet the energy needs and electricity needs and home heating needs through electricity at this time,” said Former San Francisco mayoral candidate and community advocate Richie Greenberg.

Moreover, electricity is more expensive than natural gas, which means the city could be forcing residents to pay more for energy.

The ordinance also faced pushback from plumbers and pipe fitters who will lose work when there are no longer gas pipes running through buildings.

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