Nearly 100 cities now require or encourage a transition to green buildings

  • About 1 in 5 Americans live in areas with building decarbonization guidelines, an analysis found.
  • A multi-year push to eliminate fossil fuels from new construction has spread to nearly 100 cities.
  • Buildings account for 13% of the greenhouse gas emissions that warm the planet.

This article is part of Insider’s weekly sustainability newsletter, written by Catherine Boudreau, senior sustainability reporter. Sign up here.

Policies across the U.S. aimed at eliminating fossil fuels from new homes and buildings have piled up quickly since Berkeley, California, became the first U.S. city to ban gas hookups in 2019.

Similar policies have spread to nearly 100, mostly liberal, municipalities in 11 states that either require or encourage the switch to electric heating, cooling and cooking, according to an analysis published this month by the Building Decarbonization Coalition. As of this year, one in five Americans – about 72.5 million people – live in areas covered by these guidelines.

“We finally had a chance to catch our breath and look at how quickly things are changing,” said Panama Bartholomy, executive director of the Building Decarbonization Coalition, a nonprofit that advocates eliminating fossil fuels from buildings to combat the climate crisis. to Insider. “I am truly surprised and impressed by this movement.”

The report came shortly after a debate over gas furnaces caught national attention when a federal official floated the idea of ​​banning them on public health grounds. The Consumer Product Safety Commission said it would not ban the device, but that it was looking for ways to reduce the dangers from pollutants such as carbon dioxide and nitrogen dioxide.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration, under the Inflation Reduction Act, is set to hand out billions of dollars to states later this year so they can offer rebates and tax breaks to consumers who want to switch to electric and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. . Buildings account for 13% of US emissions, according to data from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Electrification may already have an influence on the market, Bartholomy said. While most Americans – an estimated 62% – already cook with electricity, the same is not true for heating. But last year, for the first time, U.S. shipments of electric heat pumps consistently outpaced gas furnaces, the coalition’s analysis found. Heat pumps both heat and cool a home or building by circulating heat from indoors to outdoors and back again. They are more energy efficient than stoves that run on gas or heating oil and can save people money on their electricity bills.

Maine may be partially responsible for the trend. The state has already passed a target set in 2019 to install 100,000 heat pumps in homes and businesses. So far, 116,000 have been installed, according to Efficiency Maine, a quasi-governmental agency.

The effort is part of Maine’s broader goal to be carbon neutral by 2045. About 30% of the state’s emissions come from buildings, most of which burn fuel oil for heat.

States like California, Washington and Colorado have gone even further. Starting this year, California and Washington have building codes that require new buildings to support all-electric appliances. A Colorado law set a goal of 20% emission reduction for buildings by 2030.

Nevertheless, there remains a headwind for the electrification push. GOP-controlled legislatures in 20 states passed laws prohibiting local governments from banning natural gas hookups. Those states account for nearly a third of U.S. natural gas demand for buildings, an S&P Global analysis found, which said existing gas demand was not at risk.

Bartholomy said he wasn’t deterred, especially now that New York Gov. Kathy Hochul has proposed a statewide ban on gas in new buildings.

“California and New York together have a dominant role in the demand for gas supplies and appliances,” Bartholomy said.

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