California City Can't Enforce Natural Gas Ban, Appeals Court Says

(Reuters) — Berkeley, California, cannot ban natural gas hookups in new buildings because a U.S. federal law preempts its rule, a federal appeals court said Monday, siding with a challenge the state's restaurant industry made.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco said Berkeley's 2019 ban on new gas hookups effectively barred appliances that use the fuel, and that the U.S. Energy Policy Conservation Act preempts such a move.

The federal appeals court is the first to weigh in on bans against new natural gas hookups. New York City, San Francisco, San Jose and Seattle are among dozens of U.S. municipalities that have enacted similar restrictions since Berkeley adopted its rule, citing environmental and health concerns.

The California Restaurant Association challenged the ban in court in 2019 alongside other industry groups including natural gas utilities and homebuilders, claiming the ordinance would introduce major costs and burdens. The restaurant group said the ban would mean restaurants can no longer prepare popular dishes.

A spokesperson for the restaurant association welcomed the 9th Circuit decision, saying Berkeley's ordinance "is an overreaching measure beyond the scope of any city."

Representatives for the city of Berkeley did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday.

Gas ban supporters say switching from natural gas to electric heating and cooking is necessary to reduce carbon emissions that promote climate change and cut down on pollutants that can cause asthma and other health issues.

The 9th Circuit's Monday ruling reverses a 2021 decision by U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers, who concluded that federal law did not preempt Berkeley's ordinance.

At least 20 states with Republican-led state legislatures have enacted so-called preemptive laws to prohibit local governments from banning natural gas hookups, including Arizona, Ohio and Texas.

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