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Guest Commentary

Banning natural gas, a new effort by Inslee and his environmental allies


May 5, 2022

In recent years, environmentalists have targeted natural gas, even though it is an affordable energy source for so many. Their efforts have failed in the Legislature, but apparently Governor Inslee and his environmental allies found another way to restrict natural gas use. Last Friday, the State Building Code Council, whose members are appointed by the governor, voted 11-3 to change the state’s energy code by requiring new businesses and apartments to mostly use heat pumps to warm air and water, beginning in July 2023. With few exceptions, this revision would pretty much ban HVAC systems that use natural gas.

The following excerpt from a story in The Washington Observer paints a picture of how we reached this point:

Gov. Jay Inslee and his allies in the Legislature had repeatedly tried and failed to enact bans on the use of natural gas in new large commercial and residential buildings. On Friday, an obscure state agency whose members are appointed by Inslee effectively did it by an alternate means.

You’ve probably never heard of the Washington State Building Code Council, and for good reason. Its charge, periodically updating the exhaustively detailed rules governing how stuff gets built, may be essential¹ for your safety and comfort, but it’s also really, really dull. Until it isn’t.

This is the story of how Inslee, via some subtle gamesmanship, stacked the council with enough folks who share his views on climate policy to overcome a political system that had thus far largely stymied him on this issue. You should care about it because it will likely make some forms of housing more expensive. It’s also a substantial win in the War on Gas, the environmental left’s multi-front assault on an energy source that was quite recently viewed as a greener alternative to coal but has recently been rebranded as an existential threat to the planet.

In the Legislature, this broad set of ideas — to force a shift from gas to electricity to reduce carbon emissions from buildings and diminish the demand for gas in the future — ran into a buzzsaw of opposition from the construction industry, gas companies, and labor unions that represent folks who build and maintain the gas system, from the vast network of pipelines to the copper tubing that runs to you water heater.

The Building Code Council vote last week is just another Democratic plan that will make housing less affordable, in the name of green energy. It’s laughable how Democrats claim to be concerned about the working class, yet their actions, such as 2021’s adoption of a costly low-carbon fuel standard, will increase the price to heat homes.

Building-industry associations correctly warn the natural-gas ban on apartment and commercial buildings will cause challenges for construction and the electrical grid.

In 2020, Washington consumed less natural gas than half of the states in the nation. In 2019, our state used less natural gas per capita than all but four other states and the District of Columbia. Our state is not a big natural-gas user, so the council should not punish us as if we are.

Unfortunately, proponents of this natural-gas ban aren’t satisfied with just targeting apartment and commercial buildings. They apparently are looking to extend this ban to new residential homes as well. It makes you wonder how much more a new home will cost if such a ban becomes reality.

Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-9, Ritzville


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