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Bay Area Regulators Look To Ban Natural Gas Furnaces, Water Heaters

Written by Annie GausPublished Jan. 20, 2023 • 11:20am
A gas flame behind the viewing window of a gas instantaneous water heater | Karl-Josef Hildenbrand/Picture Alliance via Getty Images

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A Bay Area board that oversees air quality in the Bay Area is weighing a proposal to ban the sale of some appliances that run on natural gas.  

The rule, proposed at the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, would ban the sale of new natural gas-fired furnaces and water heaters in most of the nine-county Bay Area. Of the 2.7 million households in the Bay Area, 1.8 million use natural gas for space or water heating, according to the agency. 

Natural gas space and water heaters generate nitrogen oxide emissions and particulate matter—both linked with respiratory disease or other negative health outcomes. The Bay Area is out of step with federal health regulations governing nitrogen oxides, said Greg Nudd, a deputy pollution control officer for the district.  

“Nitrogen oxides are a really important pollutant, and right now, the Bay Area is not complying with federal health standards. […] It’s important we reduce those as quickly as possible,” said Nudd. 

The air district’s advisory council determined that particulate matter “the most important health risk driver” in Bay Area air quality. Natural gas-fired heaters have been linked with dozens of premature deaths, particularly concentrated in communities of color, according to Nudd.

The air district regulates appliances at the point of sale, meaning that as existing heaters wear out, residents would need to comply with the proposed ban when buying and installing replacements. 

If passed, the ban would apply to new buildings and replacement units starting between 2027 and 2031, depending on the type of appliance. The agency is gathering public feedback on the proposal and plans to hold a vote on March 15. 

The ban on natural gas-fired heaters would effectively add many more appliances to the electric grid over time, said Nudd—though he described the additional electricity demands as “relatively small.” 

“In the scheme of everything else that’s being electrified, this is a fairly small increment,” Nudd said. 

The proposed ban comes as federal, state and local policymakers more closely scrutinize the environmental and health impacts of natural gas-fired devices. 

In September, the California Air Resources Board voted to phase out natural gas furnaces and water heaters by 2030, though the proposal is subject to additional rulemaking by state agencies and a final vote in 2025.  

On Monday, comments by a Consumer Product Safety Commission official suggesting that the federal government could restrict gas stoves sparked a partisan furor as Republican politicians voiced outrage over the idea.

The White House and Consumer Product Safety Commission later clarified that a ban on gas stoves is not in the works. 

English

Annie Gaus can be reached at [email protected]


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