This is the debut article in CEI’s Special Briefing Series: Defending the Personal Energy Choices of Americans.
Gas stoves provide tens of millions of homeowners with the familiar blue flame for cooking, but last January they generated heat of a different sort when a Biden administration official suggested banning them.
The powerful public backlash against the idea led the administration to deny that it is targeting gas stoves, but the regulatory attacks have since been expanded and are now a key component of its all-encompassing climate change agenda. Fortunately, many in Congress are taking the side of gas stoves, and more to the point, taking the side of consumer freedom.
Gas Stove Regulations – A Busy Year Thus Far
The furor began in January when Richard Trumka Jr., a commissioner on the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), informed the media that his agency is investigating the health impacts of gas stoves – including recent claims that their use contributes to childhood asthma – and said an outright ban on new gas stoves is “a real possibility.” The public response was overwhelmingly negative, leading Biden administration officials to assert that no such ban was ever in the works. But CPSC has continued with its investigation. And in February, mere weeks after issuing its denials, the Biden administration announced that a second agency, the Department of Energy (DOE), was proposing new regulatory restrictions on stoves.
The ostensible reason for DOE’s proposal is to improve the energy efficiency of stoves (much as the CPSC’s ostensible reason for its investigation is health and safety), but a close look at the proposal reveals that the actual goal is climate change policy. Indeed, climate activists have been aggressively pushing efforts to wean Americans off natural gas use in favor of all-electric homes, and the administration has expressed strong support for the electrification agenda. For its part, the proposed rule is disproportionately harder on gas stoves than electric versions.
The Benefits of Gas Stoves
While the proposed rule would not be an explicit ban of new gas stoves, compliant models would have to sacrifice some of the features that have made gas stoves the choice of 40 percent of homeowners and the strong preference of serious cooks. For example, the highest heat settings needed for such tasks as searing and stir-frying would have to be reduced.
Convenience may also be impacted. According to the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, the weaker burners would lead to gas stove users spending nearly one extra day per year waiting for water to boil. Other features valued by some homeowners, such as the heavy grates that facilitate shifting heavy pots from burner to burner, may also have to go.
Nor would there be very much upside to justify the compromises gas stove users would have to endure. Whether gas or electric, stoves are relatively minor energy users to begin with, less than $35 per year. Even DOE estimates the proposed rule would save gas stove owners a mere $1.51 annually.
The agency also calculates claimed climate benefits from energy-saving stoves and asserts that the proposed rule helps address “the need to confront the global climate crisis.” Notwithstanding this lofty rhetoric, DOE did not attempt to quantify the impact of its proposed stove rule on future temperatures. Dr. Kevin Dayaratna of the Heritage Foundation did, and his projections are that it would reduce future temperatures by an undetectable 0.0004°C by 2050.
The Larger War on Natural Gas
It isn’t just regulatory attacks on gas stoves – and similar ones launched by DOE against furnaces and water heaters – that seek to skew the market towards electric versions for the sake of addressing climate change. Beyond appliance choices made by homeowners, the Biden administration has gone after natural gas at every step upstream from the end user. For example, America’s natural gas abundance can only help consumers if there is sufficient pipeline capacity to deliver it, but thanks in part to Biden administration policies, 2022 was the lowest year in decades for interstate natural gas pipeline additions.
The administration has also shown a hostility towards new natural gas leasing on federal lands and offshore areas. Further, the Inflation Reduction Act enacted in 2022 has a new methane tax on oil and natural gas producers. Regulators are also pressuring banks not to lend to oil and gas companies, and the list goes on. The anti-gas agenda is all encompassing, the goal of which is to make natural gas less available and more expensive for Americans.
Note also that many local governments and the state of New York have imposed bans on natural gas hookups in newly constructed homes and apartments. Needless to say, you can’t use a natural gas stove without access to natural gas. And now, the Inflation Reduction Act provides funds to local governments to shift their building codes to favor electrification over natural gas.
And if CPSC and DOE using regulations to favor electric stoves over gas were not enough, the Inflation Reduction Act also includes up to $840 in federal subsidies for the purchase of a new electric stove, but nothing for the purchase of a gas version. Given that many big appliance makers produce both types of stoves, one wonders if they will continue to produce natural gas versions when the playing field has been tilted so heavily against them.
How Congress Can Fight Back
With an agenda so out of step with the wishes of the American people, it isn’t surprising that many in Congress have chosen to take on stove regulations. The House of Representatives recently passed two bills, one forbidding CPSC from moving ahead with restrictions on gas stoves and another doing the same to DOE. Notably, both bills were bipartisan, with 29 House Democrats joining all Republicans in supporting them. Though legislation is less likely to succeed in the Senate and would undoubtedly be opposed by President Biden – he is unlikely to stop regulations his own bureaucrats came up with and in any event has rarely shown signs of flexibility on the climate agenda – these debates help set the stage for future action.
It is important for future legislation to aim high. This isn’t just about the right to choose a gas stove, but more significantly about preserving the availability of affordable natural gas for all purposes – ironically, even as DOE moves ahead with its anti-natural gas agenda, it concedes gas costs less than a third that of electricity on a per unit energy basis.
But even more fundamental than a battle over natural gas, this is about protecting the rights of the American people. For this reason, legislation should be every bit as much about freedom as it is about appliances, and require a wholesale shift away from Washington picking energy sources and energy-using technologies and towards a restoration of consumer choice.