New York City Bans Gas in New Buildings

More than 60 cities in seven U.S. states have approved policies restricting gas in buildings in recent years.

Close-Up Of Stove
Alex Biasiato / EyeEm / Getty Images

New York City has banned natural gas in new buildings, a move that could help the country’s largest city slash carbon emissions and toxic air pollution.

The policy approved by the New York City council on Dec. 15 bans natural gas in small new buildings starting December 2023, and large buildings (those with seven or more stories) in 2027. It means that gas-powered stoves, space heaters, and water boilers won’t be able to operate in future buildings, which could help make a difference because New York ranks first in the list of U.S. states with the highest carbon emissions from buildings.

Carbon emissions from buildings rarely make headlines but they are a big part of the climate change puzzle. Emissions from commercial and residential buildings account for 13% of the around 6.6 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases that the U.S. emits every year. However, in New York, a densely populated metropolis that is home to 8.4 million people, authorities estimate that buildings account for 70% of the city’s emissions.

The ban comes after a strong campaign by activist groups within the #GasFreeNYC coalition, including New York Communities for Change, NYPIRG, and Food and Water Watch, and thanks to Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel of Brooklyn, who sponsored the legislation.

"As climate action stalls at the federal and international level, New York City is leading the way on fighting climate change, cutting air pollution, and creating good jobs. The evidence is clear: an immediate shift to requiring gas-free buildings is both feasible and necessary," said the #GasFreeNYC coalition.

More than 60 cities in seven U.S. states have approved policies restricting gas in buildings in recent years, and many more are likely to follow suit. 

“When the largest city in the country takes this type of concrete action and shows bold climate leadership, we believe other cities, states and countries will take notice and act accordingly,” said Lisa Dix, the New York Director for Building Decarbonization Coalition, which campaigns for zero-carbon buildings.

The ban is good news for the climate but also for human health because appliances that use fossil fuels are to blame for toxic indoor air pollution. Much of that pollution comes from gas stoves, which feature in more than one-third of all U.S. homes.

“Electric appliances in our homes will help protect us from the negative health impacts that come with combusting gas, such as increased asthma, especially in children,” wrote Erin Skibbens, an environment campaign associate at U.S. Public Interest Research Groups. 

Although the ban only applies to new buildings, New York is trying to reduce emissions from existing buildings through Local Law 97, which sets energy efficiency standards for large buildings.

Efforts to decarbonize U.S. buildings could get a major push thanks to the Build Back Better package, which includes $12.5 billion in rebates for home energy efficiency and to help homeowners replace fossil fuel appliances. However, the proposed legislation is currently in Congressional limbo due to opposition from West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin.

When it comes to slashing emissions, the new ban will only be successful if the state of New York transitions to a zero-carbon electricity sector. At present, nearly half of the electricity produced in the state comes from plants that burn fossil fuels, mainly natural gas, while the other half comes from renewables and nuclear.

But New York expects to receive some $29 billion in public and private investments for some 100 solar, wind, and hydro projects that should allow the state to increase clean energy generation to 70% of the total by 2030 and 100% by 2040.

The state will also need to invest heavily in new transmission lines to ensure that clean power reaches New York City, which is more dependent on fossil fuel-electricity generation than the rest of the state. 

But regardless of future investments, the ban is a step in the right direction.

“All-electric buildings reduce emissions substantially compared to those that burn fossil fuels, and the emissions benefits in New York City will only increase as the grid there rapidly decarbonizes,” said the Rocky Mountain Institute.

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