The lowly kitchen stove accounts for less than 1 per cent of US natural gas consumption. But the companies whose pipes deliver it to homes have marshalled political forces to head off suggestions that gas stove use be curtailed.
Federal records show large US gas utilities, including CenterPoint Energy and CMS Energy, and their trade groups have lobbied on bills this year such as the Save Our Gas Stoves Act, which the House of Representatives passed in June.
The act aims to block the Department of Energy from imposing new efficiency standards for gas stoves that its sponsor said would force most current models off the market. The White House has insisted it has no plan to ban gas stoves.
For utilities — monopolies that make regulated returns based on the value of their assets — the lobbying effort reflects fears that stoves are the start of a broader phaseout of natural gas as climate policy aims to electrify more of the energy system.
Ryan Kelley, portfolio manager of the Hennessy Gas Utility Fund, said: “The actual financial hit for a complete nationwide ban on natural gas stoves is very small, and not really a huge issue. I think the bigger issue is that the trend will lead to outright banning of anything in the home that uses natural gas.”
More than 47mn US households cook with gas, or 38 per cent of the total, according to the Energy Information Administration. Residential cooking used 88.3bn cubic feet of gas in 2020, or 0.3 per cent of that year’s total US gas consumption of 30.5tn cu ft.
Gas hobs have come under new scrutiny over indoor air pollution and climate-altering emissions from burning fuel.
In October, researchers found gas stoves in California were leaking benzene, a pollutant that causes cancer. A study in January linked the stoves to increased risk of asthma.
“Products that can’t be made safe can be banned,” said Richard Trumka, a Joe Biden-appointed commissioner at the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, referring to gas stoves in January.
The CPSC quickly clarified that it was not considering a ban on gas stoves, but the comment sparked a backlash from Republican lawmakers.
The energy department proposed its efficiency standards for stoves in February, aiming to bring them into force in 2027. The agency said the government does not seek to forbid gas stoves, branding the accusation “absurd”.
Gas stoves are being targeted in some local and state jurisdictions. New York in May became the first state to ban natural gas connections in new buildings, prohibiting gas stoves along with water heaters, clothes dryers and other appliances that burn gas. Service to existing buildings was not affected by the legislation.
Richard Meyer, vice-president of energy markets at the American Gas Association, which represents gas utility companies, said: “The approach from many states and cities in different parts of the US has been to change building codes that would really require all electric equipment or deny hookups of fuel gas equipment to the home.”
In Washington, stoves have become a culture-war symbol for Republicans who claim the government wants to regulate away consumers’ fuel choices. “God. Guns. Gas stoves,” Ohio lawmaker Jim Jordan wrote on Twitter in January.
The Republican-controlled House last month passed the Save Our Gas Stoves Act and the Gas Stove Protection and Freedom Act, which would stop the CPSC from banning stoves.
The AGA welcomed the bills, arguing “customers want natural gas”, and urged the Democrat-controlled Senate to pass the legislation. The American Public Gas Association, which represents municipal-owned utilities, said the bills “prevent the regulatory assaults on gas-cooking products that would significantly impact the direct use of natural gas, which APGA members advocate for”.
Utilities have flagged the threat of restrictions to investors. Houston-based CenterPoint Energy, which delivers gas in six states, warned in its annual report that customer growth could be affected by “bans on or further regulation of natural gas-fired appliances”.
Asked about federal lobbying, CenterPoint said: “We believe it is important for our congressional offices to have an understanding of the impact regulation or legislation may have on customer fuel choice.”
Consumers Energy, a subsidiary of CMS Energy, said the Michigan utility was “focused on policies that best serve and provide affordable access to energy” for its customers, adding: “We support the bipartisan Save Our Gas Stoves Act and hope to encourage more discussion among policymakers as we work toward our goal of a carbon-neutral natural gas system by 2050.”
National Grid, the UK-based utility with businesses in the US north-east, also lobbied on the Gas Stove Protection and Freedom Act and Save Our Gas Stoves Act, records showed, although the records did not specify the company’s position on the bills. National Grid did not respond to a request for comment.
Kelley of Hennessy Funds said the energy used by stoves made up a “pretty small percentage” of gas utility companies’ overall revenues. In the home, natural gas is primarily used for space heating.
However, scrutiny of gas stoves comes as climate advocates push for broad electrification of the energy system, powered by zero-carbon sources such as solar, wind and nuclear, to replace direct combustion of fuels.
“One of the reasons why the industry and the trade groups are fighting hard against it is that it could be seen as the first step,” Kelley said.
Joe Vukovich, of the Natural Resources Defense Council environmental group, accused the industry of taking a “scorched earth” approach.
“They keep trying to portray things that are not a gas stove ban as a gas stove ban,” Vukovich said. “This is a playbook we’ve seen in a lot of different policy areas — you try to portray what your opponents are doing as a ban or as anti-consumer choice, and you say how terrible that is and that it’s un-American.”