Federal appeals court overturns Berkeley’s natural gas ban

May 3, 2023 By    

Berkeley, California, was the first city in the U.S. to ban natural gas hookups in new construction. That ordinance took effect in 2020. Three years later, a federal appeals court has overturned the ban in a decision being hailed by energy choice advocates.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled unanimously that the city of Berkeley’s ban on natural gas in buildings violates federal law, specifically the Energy Policy and Conservation Act. Berkeley cannot bypass federal preemption by banning the pipes instead of natural gas products, according to the panel.

Steve Kaminski, president and CEO of the National Propane Gas Association (NPGA), recalls interviewing for his current position in late summer 2019 as Berkeley was taking steps to enact the ban. Several years later, he fully recognizes the importance of the court’s decision amid NPGA’s work in states across the country to support energy choice legislation.

“This is a monumental win for the propane industry,” he says. “The impact of a federal appellate court decision is it basically means in the states that the 9th Circuit covers, every municipality has to abide by this decision.”

NPGA says it is examining how the decision will affect existing regulations in those states – Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington, as well as Guam – and will continue to advocate against bans throughout the country.

The California Restaurant Association (CRA) brought the original claim against the Berkeley ban to the courts, Kaminski says, and other groups supported it. A District Court decision two years ago had upheld the ban.

“The 9th Circuit has unanimously affirmed the central issue in this case: Local ordinances cannot override federal law,” says CRA President and CEO Jot Condie in a press release. “Cities and states are not equipped to regulate the energy use or energy efficiency of appliances that businesses and homeowners have chosen; energy policy and conservation is an issue with national scope and national security implications. This ordinance, as well as the solution it seeks, is an overreaching measure beyond the scope of any city.”

Kaminski anticipates the decision to spur more legal action, but in the meantime, he says, “We hope that it will have a chilling effect on other municipalities that are looking to ban gas in other parts of the country.”

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About the Author:

Brian Richesson is the editor in chief of LP Gas Magazine. Contact him at brichesson@northcoastmedia.net or 216-706-3748.

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