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The largest city in the U.S. bans natural gas in new buildings

Climate activists from the #GasFreeNYC coalition and elected officials rally and hold a news conference outside City Hall ahead of the vote on legislation that would ban natural gas hookups in newly constructed buildings. Brittainy Newman/AP

In a vote Wednesday, New York's city council approved a ban on natural gas in newly constructed buildings, joining cities like San Jose and San Francisco that have made similar commitments to reduce emissions.

Moving away from natural gas means that stoves and heat pumps will be powered by electricity instead, cutting down on carbon emissions. Nearly 40% of carbon emissions in the country — and more than half of New York City's emissions — come from buildings.

The new ban, with 40 votes in the affirmative and seven votes against the measure, applies to buildings that are seven stories or shorter by the end of 2023; buildings that are taller have an additional four years to comply. There are some exceptions in the bill, including hospitals, laundromats and crematoriums.

"This bill was about prioritizing people over profits and properties," Council member Alicka Ampry-Samuel, who led the effort to pass the bill, said at a rally outside city hall Wednesday afternoon. "We are at a point in our lifetimes that we need to act. We need to make sure we are protecting and saving our environment."

The legislation also sets up two studies that the Mayor's Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability will conduct. The first will examine the use of heat pump technology, and the second is a study on the impact of the new bill on the city's electrical grid.

Massive pushback from the gas industry against natural gas bans hasn't stopped cities around the country from taking on the effort. At least 42 cities in California have acted to limit gas in new buildings, and Salt Lake City and Denver have also made plans to move toward electrification.

In Ithaca, New York, the city even committed to ending the use of natural gas in all buildings — not just new ones.

But passing the ban in New York city, the largest city in the country, marks a significant benchmark for other cities trying to cut down carbon emissions in the fight against climate change.

The efforts to ban natural gas in new buildings in New York City may have also jumpstarted legislation to expand the ban to the entire state.

Legislation from state lawmakers Sen. Brian Kavanagh and Assemblymember Emily Gallagher, who are both Democrats, would require any buildings constructed in the state after 2023 to be entirely electric. If it passes, New York would become the first state to ban natural gas in new buildings at a state-wide level.


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