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Gas stoves pose a big risk to the planet and your health, study says

The Climate 202

Good morning and welcome to The Climate 202! Today we're worried that climate change could come for our coffee addiction. ☕ But first:

Gas stoves in kitchens pose a greater risk to the planet and your health than previously thought

Research suggests that gas-burning stoves in kitchens across America may pose a greater risk to the planet and public health than previously thought, your Climate 202 host reports this morning.

Gas stoves release more methane, a potent greenhouse gas, than the Environmental Protection Agency estimates, according to the study published today in the journal Environmental Science and Technology. The appliances also emit significant amounts of nitrogen dioxide, an air pollutant that can trigger asthma and other respiratory conditions.

The findings come as scientists and climate advocates increasingly urge homeowners to switch to all-electric stoves, water boilers and other appliances, even as the natural gas industry fights in New York and across the country to keep the blue flames of gas-burning stoves as a staple of American homes.

“If you have the financial ability to swap out a gas stovetop for an electric induction cooktop, I do think it's a good idea,” said Rob Jackson, a co-author of the study and professor at Stanford. “It's a good idea for the planet and for air quality.”

The American Gas Association, a trade group that represents more than 200 companies, has defended the industry’s efforts to reduce its climate impact, noting that annual methane emissions from natural gas distribution systems have declined 69 percent since 1990 and that residential natural gas use amounts to only a small portion of U.S. emissions.

“We are committed to going even further by investing nearly $30 billion each year to modernize our system and $4.3 million every day to help our customers and communities shrink their carbon footprint through energy efficiency improvements,” Karen Harbert, the association’s president and CEO, said in a statement.

Here's what to know about the paper and its implications for climate science and policy:

Methane emissions and the EPA

The researchers measured emissions from stoves in 53 homes across seven California counties. They used their findings to estimate that gas stoves in the United States release more than 28,000 metric tons of methane annually — a comparable climate impact to the emissions from about 500,000 gas-powered cars driven for a year. 

Tim Carroll, a spokesman for the EPA, noted that the agency previously has not included emissions from inside homes and buildings, known as “post-meter” emissions, in its Greenhouse Gas Inventory, an annual report on emissions from every sector of the U.S. economy. He said the agency plans to update its approach this year.

“EPA looks forward to reviewing the new study,” Carroll said in an email. “While post-meter leak emissions (including leak emissions from stoves) are not currently included in the GHG Inventory, EPA plans to incorporate an estimate for these post-meter emissions in the upcoming 2022 GHG Inventory.”

Environmental justice implications

The EPA does not regulate indoor air pollution because it lacks the authority to do so under the Clean Air Act, which only covers sources of outdoor air pollution such as automobiles, power plants and other industrial facilities. But in 2018, the EPA set a one-hour outdoor exposure limit of 100 parts per billion for nitrogen dioxide.

Notably, the study found that families who don’t use their range hoods or who have poor ventilation can surpass the one-hour outdoor standard within a few minutes of stove usage, particularly in cramped kitchens, which are more common in poorer communities.

“It’s definitely an environmental justice issue because lower-income households are more susceptible,” said Eric Lebel, a senior scientist at PSE Healthy Energy, a research institute in Oakland, Calif., who worked on the study as a graduate student at Stanford.

Gas ban battles

In recent years, cities around the country have sought to curb gas use in new buildings, prompting pushback from the gas industry — a trend to watch in 2022.

  • New York City last month became the largest municipality in America to prohibit gas hookups in new buildings. And last week, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) proposed the first-ever statewide gas ban by 2027, a move that climate activists cheered while calling for a faster timeline.
  • The gas industry has waged a campaign in statehouses across the country to preempt such bans, arguing that they deny consumers choice of a reliable fuel. Republican-controlled legislatures in states including Alabama, Kentucky and Texas have passed industry-backed bills to prevent cities from restricting fossil fuel use.

Pressure points

Despite campaign pledge, Biden fails to change course on fossil fuels

One year after announcing a halt to any new federal oil and gas leasing, President Biden has outpaced former president Donald Trump in issuing permits to companies to drill on public lands, The Washington Post's Anna Phillips reports

After holding the largest offshore lease sale in U.S. history in the Gulf of Mexico last year, the Interior Department plans to hold its first onshore auction under Biden on more than 200,000 acres across Western states by the end of March, followed by 1 million acres off the coast of Alaska.

“The administration’s actions reveal an uncomfortable truth: Although Biden supports a shift to cleaner sources of energy, he has failed to curb fossil fuel development in the United States,” Phillips writes. “His push to suspend federal oil and gas auctions has run headlong into political and legal challenges, and his administration has offered no plan to address the climate impact of mining in Wyoming’s coal-rich Powder River Basin.”

The Biden administration insists that its hands were tied by a Louisiana federal judge's ruling that the Interior Department is legally required to hold lease sales. Interior spokeswoman Melissa Schwartz said the department is “conducting a more comprehensive analysis of greenhouse gas impacts from potential oil and gas lease sales than ever before.”

Climate in the courts

Breyer's retirement has big implications for environmental law

Justice Stephen G. Breyer will retire at the end of the current Supreme Court term, giving President Biden an opportunity to nominate a liberal replacement and follow through on his campaign promise to select the first Black female justice, The Post's Robert Barnes reports.

Breyer is the last remaining justice who voted with the 5-4 majority in Massachusetts v. EPA, the landmark 2007 decision that established the EPA's legal authority to regulate greenhouse gases as pollutants. Three of the four justices in the dissent — Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. — are still active on the court, as E&E News's Pamela King noted.

Environmental groups urged Biden to pick a justice who is committed to preserving the nation's bedrock environmental laws. They noted that the Supreme Court is poised to hear oral arguments in two cases challenging the Environmental Protection Agency's authority to combat climate change and ensure clean water under the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, respectively.

“With the climate and extinction crises getting more dire every day, President Biden must now appoint a justice who understands that our existing laws must be used to their fullest extent to save our planet and future generations,” Kierán Suckling, executive director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “The status quo is failing all of us, so Biden’s choice is crucial.”

Agency alert

Interior Department cancels leases near Boundary Waters

The Interior Department yesterday canceled two leases to extract copper, nickel and other valuable materials near Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, The Washington Post's Dino Grandoni reports.

Ann Marie Bledsoe Downes, Interior's principal deputy solicitor, wrote in a legal opinion that the leases were improperly renewed by the Trump administration, which conducted an inadequate environmental analysis and failed to consult the U.S. Forest Service.

The decision will help protect hundreds of lakes, streams and wetlands in one of America's most popular wilderness destinations from potential toxic leaching from mining.

“Some places are simply too special to mine, and it is our obligation to ensure these unique and valuable lands and waters remain intact for generations to come,” Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) said in a statement.

Twin Metals Minnesota, a subsidiary of the Chilean mining conglomerate Antofagasta that had proposed a $3 billion copper-nickel mine near the southwest border of Boundary Waters, called the Biden administration’s decision “disappointing, but not surprising given the series of actions the administration has taken to try and shut the door on copper-nickel mining in northeast Minnesota.”

On the Hill

Sen. Markey: ‘We can use climate as a foundation’ for Build Back Better

Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) suggested yesterday that Democrats could pass a scaled-back version of the Build Back Better Act that contains $555 billion in climate spending and any other provisions with broad support across the caucus.

“We can use climate as a foundation for a deal on Build Back Better,” Markey said during a virtual town hall last night with leaders of environmental groups and White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory

“We can bring climate justice to communities around the country and build a package that has 50 votes," he added. "Add in any other provisions on any other issues that have 50 votes, like climate, and that's our package.”

Meanwhile, Republicans on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, on which Markey sits, took to Twitter yesterday to blast the Biden administration's climate agenda ahead of the one-year anniversary of Biden's executive orders on the climate crisis:

Viral

Heavier rainfall related to climate change will make us need our umbrella, ella, ella, eh, eh, eh… 🎶

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