GOP lawmakers wish to stop bans of fuel stoves, heating

A nationwide debate over the safety of gas stoves is now entering Minnesota politics.

Republican state lawmakers are angling to protect gas as an option for home heating and cooking by preventing local governments from banning it.

It’s an idea that has drawn support from homebuilders and also reflects concern among conservatives of a local or federal crackdown on gas appliances and stoves from climate-conscious Democrats. The DFL may broadly favor carbon-free energy, but two bills preserving gas and propane sponsored by Sen. Andrew Mathews, R-Princeton, were entertained Wednesday by Democratic lawmakers who control the Minnesota Senate.

“I haven’t seen it in Minnesota yet; I expect it probably will come at some point,” Mathews said of local bans. “But other municipalities or states around the country are trying to start limiting and ruling out different sources of energy.”

The legislation got a hearing in the chamber’s Energy, Utilities, Environment and Climate Committee.

The hearing for Mathews’ bills do not mean they are on a fast track to become law.

The Senate hearing may have been more a gesture of bipartisan goodwill from DFL lawmakers than an endorsement of the policy. House Democrats are also considering energy-efficiency legislation that could lead to less gas in homes.

“I do not know that it has the votes to pass out of committee,” said Sen. Nick Frentz, a North Mankato DFLer who chairs the energy committee. “I think it’s important for us to hear bills from both sides.”

The focus on gas stoves came after Purdue and Indiana university researchers found that methane emitted from gas stoves in the U.S. had a concentration one to two times greater than that of outdoor air affected by car traffic.

The San Francisco Bay area and New York are among the progressive jurisdictions that have tried to ban or limit the appliances.

Mathews’ legislation illustrates one priority of Republican legislators who are frustrated with government restrictions on fossil fuels — like the landmark DFL climate law targeting a carbon-free electric grid by 2040 — and who are wary of any broader effort to halt gas for cooking or heating.

Last year, a member of the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission drew backlash from conservatives when he said it was possible the agency could ban gas stoves. President Joe Biden said he wouldn’t support a ban and the commission instead advanced a more modest plan aimed at energy efficiency for stoves.

Mathews also said his legislation has appeal beyond Republicans who fear government blocking a cooking option. He said the bills would give more certainty to homebuilders and more choices for consumers at a time when lawmakers have focused on promoting more housing in Minnesota. And he said the trend toward electrifying home heating and cooking along with other energy use like charging electric vehicles could be risky given a strained regional grid.

“If we’re putting all our eggs in one basket and if something happens to the electric grid then you’ve got even larger problems,” he said.

Housing First Minnesota, a trade association representing homebuilders, supported the legislation. Mark Foster, vice president of legislative and political affairs for the organization, said as lawmakers work to boost housing, Mathews’ bill would keep “affordable and reliable fuel source options for residential construction legal as well.”

The St. Paul-based nonprofit Fresh Energy opposed the legislation. In a letter, the organization’s public affairs leader Justin Fay wrote that pre-empting local governments “on the front lines of this transition” is unnecessary, and would run counter to the direction energy markets are heading.

Fay wrote gas also shouldn’t be singled out. “For the state to specifically elevate gas, and only gas, for this type of protection would send an unmistakable signal that all other sources of energy – networked geothermal, wind, solar, etc. – are not deserving of the same degree of state policy certainty,” he said.

Last year, the DFL-controlled Legislature passed a law that directs the state to update codes every three years to require increasingly more energy-efficient new commercial buildings.

Rep. Larry Kraft, a St. Louis Park DFLer who sponsored the measure, proposed a similar bill this year aimed at updating codes for new residential housing. He said the legislation could lead to less gas because builders aiming for more efficient homes might not pay for a gas hookup if they’re already installing electric systems.

“It doesn’t explicitly say you can’t have [gas] but I think economically over time and also health-wise over time that we’ll see a transition away from gas being used as much in new homes,” Kraft said.

He said nothing in his legislation would force people to get rid of gas stoves in their current homes.

“I would encourage people to think about doing that from their overall health perspective,” Kraft said. “Because as we’re learning more and more, gas stoves in homes are really nasty things. But there’s nothing we’ve done to require that.”

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