More than two dozen environmental organizations have petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to ban the use of natural gas for home heating nationwide, arguing the federal agency must regulate “deadly pollution from heating appliances.”
The petition, sponsored by the Sierra Club, claims fossil fuel-fired home furnaces, water heaters, clothes dryers and stoves emit enough nitrogen dioxide (NOx) and carbon dioxide (CO2) that they must be classified as “new stationary sources” of air pollutants, placing them in the same regulatory regime as power plants and factories.
The petition resembles — but goes beyond — Gov. Jared Polis’ Greenhouse Gas Roadmap for a clean heat program, a key component of efforts to transition to a natural gas-free heating economy.
“Gas heating appliances, such as water heaters, furnaces, boilers, stoves, and clothes dryers represent about 80% of fossil fuel-fired heating appliances and emit the majority of appliance pollution, including both climate-disrupting GHG emissions and pollutants that directly impact human health,” the petition says.
“The data is incontrovertible: heating appliances in residential and commercial buildings contribute significantly to pollution that endangers public health and welfare. The emissions from these sources are major drivers of the dual crises of climate change and unclean air,” the petition adds.
Some critics described the petition as a sham and excuse to go after carbon dioxide emissions, with regulation of nitrogen dioxide as the vehicle to accomplish that goal.
The petition’s reading would force the EPA to set NOx standards that would effectively ban the use of natural gas in all new construction within a year after the regulation is implemented. Even existing gas appliances would have to be replaced eventually — at the end of their life cycle or when they break down.
“Emissions from buildings have a harmful, and frankly scary, impact on human health and contribute significantly to the climate crisis,” Amneh Minkara, the Sierra Club’s Building Electrification Campaign deputy director, said in a news release.
The petitioners said policymakers “must act at the local, state, and federal levels to ensure that marginalized communities are among the first to benefit from the transition away from fossil fuel systems in favor of electric technology.”
News of the petition prompted Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, to say federal agencies and state regulators are “out of control.”
“Both our federal and state regulators are creating uncertainty by trying to move everyone to use anything electric, which we don’t have enough electricity to power,” he said. “Nobody wants that except for the regulators, who refuse to see the harm they are doing.”
Sonnenberg added: “The power that these agencies want to exert over families trying to make ends meet with the high inflation is ridiculous. I trust the people to make the decisions that best fit their budget and needs, rather than government telling them they know what is best for these families. Eliminating consumer choices to one option is never a good policy.”
The petition, if implemented by the EPA, would require homeowners to replace gas appliances when they break down or must be replaced with expensive new heat pump technology.
Critics said the mandate would also increase the cost of new homes, including multifamily housing.
“We just don’t have enough resources to go around, especially when we start to look at how can we reach our most vulnerable Coloradans that are on the edge of solvency,” said Peter LiFari, executive director of Adams County’s housing authority.
Most heat pumps are installed in temperate climates, where indoor and outdoor temperatures are reasonably close together, and they are not certified to work in temperatures below 17 degrees, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
Developer Tim Walsh, who won his Republican primary race for the legislature in June, told The Gazette that his industry has talked to manufacturers about developing advanced cold-weather heat pumps on a larger scale to bring their cost down, but there “just isn’t a demand there to do that.”
“So, it’s fairly expensive,” he said. “If your furnace goes out and you need to replace it with a heat pump versus a gas fired furnace, it’s probably going to be $10,000 to $12,000. I think it’s going to disproportionately hurt the lowest-earning people in Colorado.”
The petitioners acknowledged that “financial assistance may be necessary for many consumers to make the transition from gas, oil, and propane appliances to non-emitting alternatives.”
Other expenses they mentioned may add to the cost of owning a home, including additional insulation and weatherization, electric panel and service upgrades or replacements and “more basic safety and health upgrades before even weatherization can begin.”
There are some newer heat pump technologies that work better at low temperatures, but the initial costs of installing ground-source heat pumps, which use heat-exchange coils buried underground, is more than twice as expensive as installing the more common air-source heat pumps, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
Carrier, one of the largest heating and air conditioning manufacturers in the U.S., said high efficiency heat pumps in warmer climates “typically use less source energy on average compared to gas furnaces.”
In colder climates, 95% efficient gas furnaces fare better than heat pumps, the company said, adding lifetime operating costs should be considered, particularly given the relatively lower cost of natural gas compared to electricity.
The Sierra Club petition calls the fact that home heating devices are not regulated like powerplants “a dangerous oversight.”
U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Silt, balked at the petition, saying “unelected bureaucrats do not have the power to unilaterally decide major questions,” such as how Americans heat their homes.
“We are facing the worst energy crisis since Jimmy Carter, yet these inflation-loving leftists are more worried about how to take away Americans’ reliable heating than they are about creating viable solutions,” she said.
The petitioners argued for stricter regulation by noting the EPA previously regulated emissions from wood stoves in 1987. The EPA regulation of wood stoves did not include limits on NOx — just on the amount of particulates they can emit.
In the news release, the Sierra Club also said fossil fuel-fired heating appliances “are allowed to emit with no limits or oversight by the federal government.”
EPA regulations limit particulate emissions — but not NOx — from residential furnaces, and manufacturers must certify their products before marketing them.
Colorado Oil and Gas Association President and CEO Dan Haley described the petition as but the latest in a pattern of efforts by environmental groups to curb the use of natural gas.
“The Sierra Club is always looking for ways to ban natural gas, but Americans like natural gas because it’s safe, affordable, and convenient,” Haley said. “Consumers will not take lightly the Sierra Club taking away their gas fireplaces, stoves, and barbecue grills. This petition is going nowhere.”
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