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Berkeley halts landmark natural gas ban after legal fight

A gas-lit flame burns on a natural gas stove on Tuesday, March 26, 2024. The city of Berkeley, California, has agreed to halt enforcement of a ban on natural gas piping in new homes and buildings that was successfully opposed in court by the California Restaurant Association. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)
The city of Berkeley has agreed to halt enforcement of a ban on natural gas piping in new homes and buildings that was successfully opposed in court by the California Restaurant Assn. (Richard Vogel / Associated Press)

After a years-long legal battle that garnered national attention, Berkeley's natural gas ban has fizzled out.

As part of an agreement last week to settle a lawsuit from the California Restaurant Assn., Berkeley agreed to immediately halt enforcement of its first-in-the-nation ban on installing natural gas piping in newly constructed buildings.

Berkeley has also "agreed to take steps to repeal the ordinance," said Jot Condie, president of the restaurant association.

“Every city and county in California that has passed a similar ordinance should follow their lead,” Condie said in a statement.

Read more: Federal court slows a California ban on natural gas appliances

Farimah Faiz Brown, Berkeley's city attorney, confirmed that the city has ceased enforcement of the ban, saying cities were "uniquely responsible for protecting their residents" from the climate-change harms posed by burning natural gas.

"Berkeley will continue to be a leader on climate action," Brown said in a statement.

Fighting climate change has been a primary argument put forward by proponents of such bans. Natural gas burned in homes and businesses accounts for about 10% of California’s planet-warming pollution — and state plans to achieve carbon neutrality by 2045 have relied on phasing out natural gas appliances amid a 90% reduction in demand for natural gas.

Condie said that climate change remains a concern, but that the policy was not the right solution.

Read more: California declared war on natural gas. Now the fight is going national

Gas ban supporters have also cited public health as a rationale. A 2023 study from Stanford University and nonprofit PSE Healthy Energy found that cooking with gas stoves can expose people to roughly the same cancer risk as breathing secondhand cigarette smoke.

Berkeley was the first U.S. city to approve a ban on gas hookups in most new homes, in 2019. More than 70 other California cities and counties — including Los Angeles — have since followed suit and effectively banned new gas appliances.

The fate of those policies, as well as dozens of others outside the state, is unclear.

Read more: As a regulatory battle simmers, evidence against gas stoves is mounting

In an April 2023 ruling, a federal appeals court sided with the restaurant association against Berkeley's ordinance — ruling that the city could not preempt federal statutes in attempting to regulate the piping that carries natural gas into a building as a way to regulate the appliances themselves.

After the appeals court declined to rehear the case on Jan. 2, the two parties spent months working on a settlement, according to the restaurant association.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.