Washington, DC, Aims to Ban Fossil Fuel in New Construction

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Regulators at all levels – federal, state, and local – seek to address climate concerns. On July 27, Washington, DC, joined localities banning natural-gas hookups when Mayor Muriel Bowser signed an ordinance limiting use of fossil fuels like natural gas in newly constructed buildings and adding in various other climate-focused emissions limits.

Highlights of the new ordinance:

  • “Net-Zero Emissions” by 2026. The Clean Energy DC Building Code Amendment Act of 2022, available here, requires the mayor to adopt regulations ensuring all new construction or significant renovations to existing buildings be completed under a “net-zero emissions” energy standard by 2026. Net zero-energy buildings are defined in the legislation as those that conserve an amount of energy identical to that expected to be used by the building, or for the building to obtain their energy from renewable sources up to the amount required for that building.
  • No use of fossil fuels in new construction. The legislation explicitly restricts the use of emissions-generating energy, namely fossil fuels, except as back-up generation sources in public health and safety buildings. It also mandates a minimum of 5 percent of the total building energy consumption be met by on-site renewable generation. The law’s restriction on fossil fuels would include the use of gas-powered stoves, meaning restaurants and residents would have to use electric induction instead of cooking over an open flame.

Regulatory Background

DC has taken various steps in recent years to address environmental concerns, and the Clean Energy DC Building Code Amendment Act of 2022 is one part of these efforts. Another part is the Climate Commitment Amendment Act, available here, which:

  • Ends DC government purchases of fossil-fuel-powered equipment to heat buildings by 2025;
  • Directs the DC government to purchase only zero-emissions vehicles beginning in 2026; and
  • Enshrines a district-wide carbon neutrality target by 2045.

These measures build on DC’s Clean Energy Omnibus Amendment Act of 2018, available here, which requires DC to source 100 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2032.

Similar efforts in Other Localities

These efforts mirror efforts by other municipalities around the county to ban use of natural gas and other fossil fuels in new construction. In July 2019, Berkeley, California, became the first city to announce it would ban natural gas in new buildings. As we have previously discussed, Berkeley passed an ordinance prohibiting natural gas infrastructure in new buildings, including the installation of fuel gas pipes and connecting to gas meters. This ordinance was challenged 2019 in the case California Restaurant Association v. City of Berkeley when the California Restaurant Association (CRA) filed suit against Berkeley on behalf of member restaurant owners and chefs interested in opening new restaurants in Berkeley using gas-fired equipment. CRA alleged that the federal Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA) and three California state laws preempted the local ordinance banning natural gas infrastructure. This case remains pending before the Ninth Circuit after the ordinance was upheld in federal district court.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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