Comment: State’s ‘ban’ of natural gas sets aside a climate tool

A new state law threatens to drive up power costs, burden the grid and work against its climate goals.

By Benji Backer / For The Herald

As a Gen Z environmental advocate, an enthusiast of Washington state’s natural beauty and a proud graduate of the University of Washington, I’m dismayed by the state’s latest move to effectively ban natural gas.

Masquerading as “climate policy,” the ban will do little (if anything) to curb the state’s rising emissions. Instead, its biggest impact will be burdening hardworking Washingtonians and further straining the grid.

House Bill 1589, signed into law in March, puts pressure on utility companies and customers to go all-electric in order to stay in line with the state’s unrealistic, top-down approach to climate and clean energy. Despite claims that the bill is not a ban, it directs the state’s largest energy utility, Puget Sound Energy (PSE), to transition away from natural gas, starting now. Not to mention that the bill includes restrictions on the use of natural gas equipment in homes and businesses.

PSE is touting the bill as a win because they won’t pay for this bad policy; ratepayers will. For some time, residents in the state have enjoyed electricity rates below the national average, but that could soon change. HB 1589 could more than double Washingtonian’s electric bills, disproportionately affecting moderate- and low-income households. The Building Industry Association of Washington estimates that this effort to convert to all-electric will cost an average of $40,000 per home.

Moreover, the state’s grid is already stressed, and moving away from natural gas without a realistic plan to replace this reliable energy source will increase the risk of blackouts. Earlier this year, PSE asked customers to reduce their natural gas and electricity usage during a winter storm when demand skyrocketed and supply was insufficient. With grid operators across the country warning of threats to reliability, Washington’s move to further strain the grid by moving away from natural gas entirely isn’t just bad policy, it’s irresponsible.

Yes, we must reduce emissions to address climate change, but misinformed policies like this are not the answer. Similar attacks on natural gas at the federal level, such as President Biden’s ban on liquid natural gas exports, do nothing but elevate dirtier energy from countries such as China and Russia and threaten our allies’ energy security.

Interestingly, a new report from Resources for the Future finds that phasing out fossil fuels entirely is not even a prerequisite for meeting climate goals. Among the climate scenarios examined, fossil fuels will continue to contribute to the solution, particularly with carbon capture and storage, through at least 2050. In response to Washington’s past top-down, big government efforts to phase out fossil fuels, emissions in the state have not significantly decreased, threatening its ability to meet climate goals.

Additionally, a lesser-known fact is that natural gas is the primary reason the United States has led the world in emissions reductions over the past couple of decades. Although natural gas is not currently carbon-free, it is a cleaner alternative to coal. With innovations in carbon capture and storage and responsible management of methane, natural gas could provide clean, reliable energy well into the future. Washington’s efforts to ban natural gas would effectively remove this tool from the toolbox based on politics, not science.

Instead of forcing feel-good policies that hurt hardworking Americans, threaten reliability, and do little to mitigate climate change, the state should take an any-of-the-above energy approach that embraces renewables, nuclear energy and natural gas alike.

Unfortunately, Washington continues to force bad policies that cater to out-of-touch environmentalists while unfairly burdening citizens who need to heat their homes and put food on the table. A natural gas ban is not the answer; an all-of-the-above energy approach is.

Benji Backer is the founder and executive chairman of the American Conservation Coalition (ACC) and author of “The Conservative Environmentalist,” released April 16. Follow him on X @BenjiBacker.

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