"Gas cook stove" by Oregon State University is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Chefs Want To Continue To Cook With Gas — Gas Companies Help With Disinformation Campaigns

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A coalition of gas companies and their supporters have partnered with restaurant associations to ensure the right for chefs to cook with gas. The coalition has made headway in several prominent communities and is now planning to confront rules across the western US to limit the installation of gas stoves in new buildings.

But haven’t we heard that switching from gas to induction stoves has been documented to improve indoor air quality and reduce exposure to both nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide? What’s the catch here?

The restaurant association advocacy to perpetuate gas stove use is dangerous — cities and states need to reduce gas combustion in buildings, not increase access to it. What’s the dynamic that’s going on here, anyway? Are chefs really to blame?

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In an article earlier this week, Bloomberg reviewed how the California Restaurant Association (CRA) took Berkeley, CA to court in November 2019, stating that its 20,000-plus members preferred cooking with a gas flame. It also drew upon the legal position that future business options would be limited if new locations were prohibited from installing gas stoves — doesn’t federal energy laws supersede local ordinances?

State regulators had crafted a blueprint to reach California’s goal of a 40% cut in emissions by 2030 and stressed the need to shrink the state’s gas system and halt expansion of gas pipes into new buildings. When Berkeley’s request for a rehearing was rejected earlier this year, the city subsequently canceled its ordinance, prompting the CRA to celebrate a “significant triumph for chefs and restaurateurs.”

The Bloomberg article goes on to describe “one of the most withering setbacks” to emissions progress, which “wasn’t delivered by the oil industry or coal excavators, but, rather, a group of restaurants in California.” Is it true that the CRA was solely responsible for the ordinance cancellation?

Actually, no. Buried within the Bloomberg article is the acknowledgement that the CRA refuses to say who paid the legal bills for its Berkeley suit. SoCalGas paid more than $4 million between 2020 and 2022 to examine legal issues such as “government actions potentially affecting natural gas service” and “whether they might be preempted by federal law.” SoCalGas and San Diego Gas & Electric combined to contribute over $1.3 million to CRA and its charitable arm.

We’ve been writing about the behind-the-scenes natural gas lobbying for some time. In fact, our intrepid reporter, Steve Hanley, has chronicled how, for more than 50 years, the natural gas industry leveraged the tactics of delay, denial, and disinformation. Did they create such subterfuge themselves? Oh, no, dear reader (yes, a new season of Bridgerton has been dropped). Gas industry propaganda was a mirror of tobacco companies that pushed the narrative of healthy cigarette smoking.

The Physicians for Social Responsibility consortium counters:

“Gas stove pollution is like having a chain-smoking roommate in your kitchen. With each use, it releases harmful pollutants like nitrogen dioxide and formaldehyde, just like constant puffs of smoke filling the air. Just as you wouldn’t tolerate a chain-smoker indoors, it’s crucial to address gas stove emissions to maintain a healthy living environment.”

Many studies conclude that the climate pollution from gas is extensive. When methane is unearthed and delivered to homes and businesses through thousands of miles of pipelines, some of the gas escapes. Because unburned methane causes more than 80 times the warming as an equivalent amount of CO2 over two decades, these leaks nullify much of the fuel’s improvement over coal.

Combusting methane (natural gas) creates byproducts. Like any other chemical reaction, when natural gas is lit on fire, it reacts with the air and produces new chemical compounds. These include carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), and other nitrogen–oxygen combinations, often referred to cumulatively as the NOx, formaldehyde, and volatile organic compounds.

Evidence uncovered by the Climate Investigations Center revealed that the gas industry was aware of its “NOx problem” at least at early as 1970. Its own studies — not coincidentally — used the same laboratories, management consultants, and statisticians as its Big Tobacco counterparts. Furthermore, the natural gas industry was advised by Hill & Knowlton, the same public relations company that masterminded the Big Tobacco strategy.

The natural gas industry launched a barrage of attacks on scientific findings that cooking with natural gas carries health risks to humans. The gas industry funded their own epidemiological studies. By making spurious complaints against academic studies, framing discussion of the issue as “reckless,” and hiring influencers to push back against the latest evidence, the natural gas industry influenced public opinion and advocated against gas stove regulatory action.

Why are the Feds Regulating Electric Stoves instead of Gas Stoves?

A kerfuffle began last year when a regulator with the independent Consumer Product Safety Commission suggested that the Commission should consider a ban on gas stoves due to health concerns related to pollution emitted by the appliances. Republicans were in an uproar. “Here’s an idea. Let Americans decide what stove is right for their families, not the federal government,” said Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-ND), vice chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Even moderate Democrats balked at the no-new-gas-stoves idea.

In January, 2024, the US Department of Energy finalized Congressionally-mandated energy efficiency standards for residential cooking products. If you thought that chefs would lose their precious gas cooking stoves, you were quite wrong. Instead, the focus shifted to household utility cost reductions while improving appliance reliability and performance. The original 50% of gas stoves on the market that would have been impacted by the rule is quite weakened. The efficiency rule will allow for gas stoves that use 1.77 million British Thermal Units (BTUs) of energy per year, up from the 1.204 million BTU allowed in its initial proposal.

These standards reflected recommendations from a wide range of stakeholders, including the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, Consumer Federation of America, and energy efficiency advocates. The new standards will take effect in 2028 and are framed so as to save US residents approximately $1.6 billion on their utility bills over 30 years.

“What’s important here is that the Biden administration is updating standards for everyday products and these updates will result in meaningful pocketbook savings for families … with the gas stoves being a very small piece of that,” Andrew deLaski, executive director of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project, told the Hill.

Meanwhile, Other Governments & Companies are Switching to Electric Cooktops

Lawmakers in the European Union agreed in April to abolish fossil fuels in new construction by 2030, while requiring retrofits for the least-efficient buildings. New York State enacted a rule last year to ban gas in most new construction. Utility regulators in Massachusetts are examining the future of their gas system as the state tries to slash emissions by 90%, and they recently rejected proposals by gas companies to bank heavily on renewable natural gas. San Francisco and Los Angeles are sticking with their gas bans, even if at least 10 others, including Sacramento and Menlo Park, have already halted their rules after the Berkeley decision.

In response, the gas industry has mounted an anti-electrification campaign, sending robotexts to residents about how their electric bills would soar if they switched to electric stoves.

Open Table, a publication for the restaurant industry, advises chefs and restaurant owners who are planning to build a new space that it’s time to consider the possibility of a ban and get ready for a gas-free future. “You won’t be alone,” they soothe. “Many restaurants have already left gas behind.”

Some businesses are already listening. Chipotle Mexican Grill is moving forward with cooking with electricity and has vowed to halve climate-warming emissions from its 3,500 restaurants by 2030. It has announced a new all-electric kitchen design that it plans to implement at over 100 locations this year.

Induction cooktops, which use electricity to send pulses of electromagnetic energy to heat up cookware, have made significant improvements and “generally outperform” all other options, including gas, according to Consumer Reports. “No other technology we’ve tested is speedier.”

Right now, induction ranges cost 2 to 3 times more than a comparable gas stove. And some restaurants will need to upgrade the electric connection into their building to handle the increased power demands. As with any transition, there are costs involved — but switching to electric will save the cost of human health.

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Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn Fortuna, PhD, is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavey Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a 2022 Tesla Model Y as well as a 2017 Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Substack: https://carolynfortuna.substack.com/.

Carolyn Fortuna has 1330 posts and counting. See all posts by Carolyn Fortuna