Regional Natural Gas Bans Create Uncertainty and Challenges
The Santa Barbara South Coast Chamber of Commerce has voiced opposition to the “reach code” building electrification ordinances, that are essentially natural gas bans set to be adopted by the County of Santa Barbara, the City of Goleta, and the City of Carpinteria. These ordinances follow in the footsteps of the City of Santa Barbara’s building electrification ordinance, which was enacted in 2021, despite strong resistance voiced by the Chamber of Commerce and other groups.
The chamber is concerned about the pacing of these ordinances, which are far ahead of the state’s approved timeline to implement similar regulations. The chamber fears that these ordinances will create economic challenges throughout the region, particularly as local energy infrastructure struggles to keep pace with our existing needs. The impact of state and local policies that continue to limit energy options and place further strain on local grids is detrimental to our local economy and jobs.
While the chamber recognizes the pressing issue of climate change and its contribution to extreme weather, we argue that banning natural gas services in a small portion of the region’s commercial and residential properties is not the best way to address climate change. The chamber contends that such a proposal has little to no effect on global climate change and will lead to increased challenges related to building and business operations. While each jurisdiction’s building electrification ordinances differ slightly, they generally aim to prohibit natural gas infrastructure in all newly constructed buildings, as well as in certain remodels of existing buildings. Plus, with the implementation of these new ordinances, businesses will have five different sets of regulations that are all slightly different – in each of the three cities, the county, and the state. This level of uncertainty and confusion regarding a major infrastructure utility, natural gas, is a problem.
It is important to note that California and Santa Barbara County already have some of the strictest building standards in the nation, and new buildings in the region are already the most energy-efficient and lowest emitting in the area, compared to existing building stock. The chamber believes that by focusing solely on new development, the proposal places those properties at a competitive disadvantage and discourages new housing. However, applying this regulation to existing buildings would create even more difficult challenges.
Recently, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court overturned a similar ordinance in Berkeley, California. The Ninth Circuit decision states that Berkeley’s natural gas ban ordinance is preempted by federal law (Energy Policy and Conservation Act) which already regulates natural gas appliances and is therefore overreaching. This decision has effectively hit the pause button on the local natural gas ban ordinances, which are very similar in nature to Berkeley’s. While it is currently unclear how our local jurisdictions will choose to move forward, it is yet another sign that these ordinances are problematic – and potentially illegal.
Overall, the chamber believes that banning natural gas is not an effective policy to achieve our region’s mutual goals and that the ordinances’ advanced timeline ahead of state regulation are unnecessary. Instead, the chamber suggests that local jurisdictions should direct their energy efforts toward supporting the hardening of the local grid and increasing local energy resiliency, rather than banning natural gas. Instead of creating regulations that place properties at a competitive disadvantage, the chamber proposes that the county and cities work with local energy providers, businesses, and property owners to explore collaborative solutions and create a regional energy grid that can serve as a statewide example of reliability.
Kristen Miller is president and CEO of the Santa Barbara South Coast Chamber of Commerce.