The ruling will likely be appealed to a higher court
April 19, 2023 - A Ninth Circuit United States Court of Appeal in San Francisco overturned the city of Berkeley's ban on installing gas piping in new construction. Santa Monica and roughly 70 other California cities have instituted similar bans. The federal court's ruling applies to the entire area within its jurisdiction, which includes all of California and other Western states.
Santa Monica will have to abide by the ruling unless it is appealed to a higher court.
Last fall, Santa Monica adopted Ordinance #2722 that prohibited "gas infrastructure (commonly referred to as 'gas piping')" in new buildings, including Accessory Dwelling Units, or where there is significant renovation.
Berkeley had tried a similar ordinance, outlawing the piping rather than the appliances themselves. The reason for going about it this was is that an Energy and Policy Conservation Act passed by the U.S. Congress in 1975 "expressly preempts State and local regulations concerning the energy use of many natural gas appliances, including those used in household and restaurant kitchens." The Ninth Circuit was unimpressed with Berkeley's attempt to regulate the appliances by attacking the piping, writing, "Instead of directly banning those appliances in new buildings, Berkeley took a more circuitous route to the same result and enacted a building code that prohibits natural gas piping into those buildings, rendering the gas appliances useless."
The lawsuit was brought by the California Restaurant Association. Jot Condie, president of the association, said in a statement that the Berkeley law was "an overreaching measure beyond the scope of any city."
Santa Monica's rationale for adopting the gas piping ban was to aid in the fight against global warming. "Methane (natural gas) is a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. Eliminating gas combustion is critical to reaching the City's carbon neutrality goal," the city stated on their website .(https://www.santamonica.gov/zero-emission-building-code#:~:text=On%20September%2027%2C%202022%2C%20Santa,piping%E2%80%9D)%20in%20new%20buildings.) The city is trying to reach "carbon neutrality" by 2050.
Local resident Houman Hemmati wrote in The Observer in March that it was absurd to think Santa Monica has an observable effect on climate change. "Yes, climate change is occurring, however I can guarantee you that even if Santa Monica banned all cars, banned all electricity, banned all cooking, and banned all use of any energy at all (including burning of wood, which has become very common here given high energy costs), climate change on a global or local scale would NOT be impacted whatsoever. Santa Monica has 91,000 people out of 7.9 billion people worldwide, which makes us just 0.001% of the world's population," he wrote.
The City of Santa Monica claims that, through the Clean Power Alliance, its residents use electricity made from clean, renewable sources. However, as Hemmati pointed out, two thirds of California's energy comes from non-renewables. If Santa Monica is using more clean energy (to offset the loss of using natural gas), then that only means that other state residents are using more of the nonrenewable electricity. There is no net change in carbon emissions for the globe as a whole.
"This isn't about the climate or energy conservation or asthma or pollution. Much like many of your other recent policies, it's empty virtue signaling," Hemmati wrote.
The mayor of Berkeley said in a statement that the Ninth Circuit is not allowing cities to "take common-sense measures to protect its constituents from climate change."