Cities try to phase out gas stoves, but chefs push back

Gas-fired stoves are emerging as a burning problem as U.S. cities consider phasing out natural gas connections for homes and businesses to reduce carbon emissions.

Many restaurant and home cooks prefer to cook on gas stoves, and convincing some to switch to electric cooktops is proving a hard sell — a sentiment that has seized the natural gas industry to oppose new local ordinances.

Several cities, including San Francisco and Seattle, have given up ground by exempting stoves from natural gas bans or providing restaurants with pathways to obtain waivers in an effort to minimize backlash.

The pushback on stoves demonstrates one of the challenges of reducing emissions associated with climate change: Consumers may have to make personal sacrifices by giving up things they use and enjoy in favor of lesser-known technologies.

George Chen, executive chef and founder of the China Live restaurant in San Francisco, said he was concerned about cities restricting a cooking technique that contributes to the texture and taste of fine Chinese cuisine, which he says cannot be achieved in China. an electric stove.

“I respect the environment and I drive an electric car and I’m happy to pay the extra cost because the technology is good,” said Mr Chen. “But to say that an electric stove is just as good as a gas one is misunderstood the art of cooking.”

Electrification proponents say that today’s induction cookers, which use electromagnetic current to directly heat cookware, are far superior to the electric hobs of yesteryear and, once cooks learn to use them, are also superior to gas. But some groups in the restaurant industry and others have resisted attempts to force them to make the switch.

When Berkeley, California, became the first U.S. city two years ago to ban natural gas connections to new homes and businesses, the California Restaurant Association filed a lawsuit. It argued that the restriction would harm companies that use the fossil fuel to sear meat, sear vegetables and stir-fry rice and noodles. A federal judge rejected the challenge earlier this month; the restaurant group said it plans to appeal the decision.

Since then, several dozen other U.S. municipalities, including Denver and New York, have enacted or proposed measures that prohibit or restrict natural gas in new or extensively renovated buildings, in the hope that this will help meet the targets to reduce carbon emissions associated with to reduce climate change. In turn, a number of states, including Texas and Georgia, have decided to ban local jurisdictions from enacting such bans before more cities can catch on.

The local measures would require the installation of heat pumps and electrical appliances rather than gas-fired ovens, water heaters, ovens and stoves, which are currently the norm in most of the country. Nationally, fossil fuels burned for energy in businesses and homes represent 13% of annual CO2 emissions, according to according 2019 data from the EPA.

The contribution of gas stoves to emissions is negligible compared to the gas used to heat homes and water. Less than 3% of natural gas consumption in homes comes from cooking on gas stoves, according to a 2015 residential energy survey of the US Energy Information Administration.

An initial proposal for restrictions on new natural gas connections in Brookline, Massachusetts, related to gas stoves, but those were eventually exempted. The city still needs state approval to issue the ban.

Practically speaking, it made more sense to “go after the big stuff first,” said state representative Tommy Vitolo, a Democrat who represents Brookline in the Massachusetts legislature. “For some, cooking is cathartic. For others it is spiritual or cultural. It’s an important part of people’s daily lives and they understandably have preferences,” he said.

Shelby Starks, in apron, appreciates gas cooking but is open to more sustainable food preparation practices.

When the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted unanimously last year to ban natural gas in new buildings, the measure included a waiver process that allowed for flexibility for restaurants. Seattle’s building code updates curbing natural gas in new buildings, passed unanimously by the city council in February, included a similar exclusion for gas stoves, an approach “considered at the time as preferable to an outright ban,” Kristin said. Brown, communications manager for the Office of Sustainability and Environment in Seattle, in an email.

City closures for gas cooking are not unreasonable, says Sara Baldwin, who works on the electrification of the construction sector at environmental policy firm Energy Innovation. Ultimately, however, she believes that buildings must be fully electrified, including hobs, to meet ambitious emissions reduction targets, posing an existential threat to the gas industry.

“The gas industry really wants to turn the domestic stovetop into a wedge-shaped problem and use that to animate people against electrification as a whole,” said Charlie Spatz, a researcher at the Climate Investigations Center, an environmental advocacy group.

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Natural gas companies and lobby groups such as the American Gas Association have invested in public relations campaigns in defense of stovetop cooking. The group has paid Instagram lifestyle and wellness influencers for posts about cooking with gas stoves, as previously reported by Mother Jones magazine.

An AGA spokesperson said the sponsored posts were part of the #CookingWithGas campaign, which also includes videos on the website of professional chefs sharing recipes and how they prefer cooking with natural gas.

“Americans love cooking on gas, so it’s understandable that misguided policymakers would try to soften the blow of policies that exclude affordable, reliable, and clean natural gas by exempting natural gas for cooking,” AGA president Karen Harbert said in a statement. e-mail.

While some restaurant groups have opposed gas bans, citing factors such as the higher cost of all-electric kitchens, some chefs say they see the potential environmental benefits.

Shelby Starks believes food will change “on many different fronts.”

Shelby Starks, a personal chef in Oakland, Calif., said gas cooking has been an important part of her profession in the 12 years she has been serving food in the Bay Area. But she thinks chefs will have to adapt.

“We’re going to see food change on many different fronts, whether it’s how we grow the food or how it’s delivered,” she said. “Sustainably preparing food is the next frontier.”

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Corrections & Reinforcements
Fossil fuels burned for energy in businesses and homes make up 13% of annual US CO2 emissions, according to 2019 data from the EPA. An earlier version of this article erroneously stated that this was the figure for fossil fuels burned for electricity in businesses and homes. (Corrected July 17.)

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