Berkeley Bans Natural Gas
The Berkeley, California, City Council is getting headlines for its decision last week to ban supposedly gendered language from its city code. “Manhole” and “manpower” are now out in favor of “maintenance hole” and “human effort.” Somewhere George Orwell is crying, but the city’s progressive lords were even more destructive when they also moved to ban natural gas from nearly all new buildings. The ordinance is due for a second reading this week and already has unanimous council support. Beginning Jan. 1, with few exceptions the city will deny developers permission to build a home, town house or small apartment building with natural gas hook-ups for cooking, heating or hot water. The ordinance’s stated goal is “fossil free new buildings,” and Berkeley plans to expand the ban to bigger apartment buildings and commercial structures.Berkeley claims in its ordinance that “all-electric heating technologies are cost-competitive substitutes to their natural gas counterparts.” If that’s true in California it is only because the state’s climate regulations have increased the cost of fossil fuels. Electric heaters are generally less expensive than gas furnaces, but in most places gas is less expensive than electricity. Residential natural gas prices have risen 16% in California over the last five years while falling 8% on average nationwide. Electricity prices statewide have also increased 20% since 2014 due in part to increased reliance on solar and wind and are set to rise even higher as the state weans itself from fossil fuels. Berkeley doesn’t want to wait until state regulators ban new natural gas hook-ups, as environmentalists demand faster progress toward carbon neutrality.This being Berkeley, the natural-gas ban also contains a social-justice rationale. “Asthma and its relationship to natural gas present profound questions about equity,” the ordinance says, adding that “the highest asthma rates in Berkeley and Oakland tracked areas that were redlined pursuant to racist housing policies.”So the city will make poor and minority families pay more for energy now because bankers once didn’t lend to the poor. Count this as another case of the madness of progressive crowds.