The Politics of Banning Natural Gas
A data visualization exploring the potential impact of natural gas bans and preemptions laws.
Last year there were a number of bills passed in state legislatures and city councils across the country targeting residential natural gas use. Democrats in states like California, New York, Massachusetts, and Washington introduced or passed bills aimed at updating building codes to encourage all-electric homes. New York City and a few dozen municipalities in California went so far as to ban natural gas in new construction entirely.
Fearing a broader trend across the country, the natural gas industry went on the defensive and convinced 20 Republican states to pass “preemption laws” that prevent cities from banning gas.
But the scale of residential gas emissions in each state varies widely. Phasing out natural gas in California and New York, for example, would have a larger effect than phasing out natural gas in 30 smaller states.
In order to better understand the potential impact of these policies and any future legislation, I created the chart below, which shows annual emissions from residential natural gas by state. The color of each bar chart shows the political leaning of voters in each state ranging from Hawaii’s D+32 to Wyoming’s R+50.
CO2 emissions from residential natural gas (metric tons per year)
Why does all this matter? First, there’s no path to zero emissions in this sector – or any other for that matter – that doesn’t involve policy. In other words, decarbonizing residential natural gas will be inherently political. Secondly, in America, states have an outsized influence on energy policy. It’s the states that regulate utilities, not the federal government.
For electrification advocates there’s good news and bad news in the data above. The good news is that about half of emissions – 128 million tons – come from states that lean more than 5 points blue. If any states act boldly to decarbonize their housing, it’s likely to be these ones.
The four states – California, New York, Massachusetts, and Washington – that introduced or passed electrification bills last year make up 24% of residential gas emissions, or 60.5 million tons per year.
Residential gas emissions in states with new regulations (metric tons per year)
20 percent of emissions — 41 million tons – come from states that lean between D+5 and R+5. It’s unlikely that any of these states will lead the electrification movement. But they are also less likely to pass anything as overtly pro-gas as a preemption law. New Hampshire (R+1) is the only state in this category that has done so.
Now for the bad news.
A third of emissions – 86 million tons – come from states that lean more than 5 points red. 78 million tons of these emissions are in the 19 Republican states that passed preemption laws last year.
Residential gas emissions in states with preemption laws (metric tons per year)
To put this in perspective, if the stoves, furnaces, and other gas appliances in these states were a country, they would rank 45th in terms of annual emissions just after Qatar and ahead of Colombia.
All-electric building codes and preemption laws are just two policies. The bills passed last year are only part of the larger electrification story. But I think they are a sort of prequel to the political battles we can expect over the coming decades.
Next week I plan to do a similar analysis on residential natural gas emissions in America’s largest cities. In the meantime, let me know what you thought of this story.
Notes and sources
The charts above don't include methane emissions, which could increase each states total greenhouse gas emissions by anywhere from 20% to 60% in terms of CO2 equivalents depending on the leak rate. Unfortunately calculating this is impossible today since there are no reliable studies that estimate the leak rate in each state's residential gas supply. I look forward to the angry emails and tweets I will no doubt receive for not including methane emissions in the charts above.
The political data comes from this FiveThirtyEight index which measures the partisanship of each state.