“No, Joe Biden is not coming for your gas stove,” Washington journalist Julia Lerner assures us. People can be forgiven for fearing the federal government would try to ban them. An NBC headline states bluntly, “Ban new gas stoves, a federal safety commissioner proposes.” What’s going on here, and do Coloradans who prefer cooking with gas have anything to worry about?
The national debate
Let’s start with the national debate before turning to local politics. A January 9 Bloomberg headline states, “US Safety Agency to Consider Ban on Gas Stoves Amid Health Fears.” Richard Trumka Jr., a commissioner with the Consumer Product Safety Commission—the same organization that hounded a Boulder-based seller of recreational magnets out of business—told Bloomberg that gas stove emissions pose “a hidden hazard” and that “any option is on the table” for addressing the matter. “Products that can’t be made safe can be banned,” Trumpka said.
What are those crazy conservatives thinking, spreading fear that the federal government might ban gas stoves after a federal regulator said it might?
Trumpka clarified, “To be clear, CPSC isn’t coming for anyone’s gas stoves. Regulations apply to new products.” Oh, so jack-booted thugs will not literally storm into your kitchen to tear your gas stove out of the wall. What a relief! Rather, the federal government may merely forbid you to buy a new gas stove. How beneficent! CPSC chair Alexander Hoehn-Saric further backed away from talk of a ban in a January 11 statement.
Meanwhile, people concerned with economic liberty might wonder how we got to a place in the “land of the free” where unelected federal bureaucrats may dictate to us what we may or may not buy for our personal hobbies (considering the case of the magnets) and how we may cook our food. Congress has shamefully evaded its responsibilities in such matters by granting a bureaucratic agency such vast illegitimate powers.
The left’s obsession with gas stoves
A headline from the Washington Post reveals another important aspect of the discussion: “Biden Isn’t Coming for Your Gas Stove. States Are.” So are various localities, including some in Colorado.
The author of the article, Liam Denning, also reveals why the environmentalist left is so concerned with how you cook your food. Denning discusses “the importance of cooking in fostering a personal affinity for what is, after all, an invisible fossil fuel.” He writes, “Find a way to break that link, and gas demand writ large becomes more vulnerable in this era of climate change.”
Similarly, the subhead for an article by Emily Atkin states, “Like plastic straws, gas stoves represent an easy way to begin talking about a massive and generally unseen climate problem.”
Now we know why the left is so concerned about our stoves even though they contribute a trivial fraction of carbon-dioxide emissions. “Roughly 40% of US households cook with gas,” Denning tells us. This produces nearly 10 million tons of carbon dioxide and “equivalent units” of leaked methane each year, reports CBS. Total 2020 U.S. CO2 emissions were 5,222 million metric tons, the EPA tells us. So stoves account for less than a percent of emissions. By the way, electric stoves that draw power from gas-burning power plants also indirectly emit CO2. Ah, but the symbolic value of banning gas stoves is immense!
An exaggerated debate over health
Conveniently for the environmentalists who want to ban gas stoves because of global warming, gas stoves also are somewhat unhealthy, relative to electric ranges. The Bloomberg article summarizes:
“Natural gas stoves . . . emit air pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and fine particulate matter at levels the EPA and World Health Organization have said are unsafe and linked to respiratory illness, cardiovascular problems, cancer, and other health conditions, according to reports by groups such as the Institute for Policy Integrity and the American Chemical Society. Consumer Reports, in October, urged consumers planning to buy a new range to consider going electric after tests conducted by the group found high levels of nitrogen oxide gases from gas stoves.
“New peer-reviewed research published last month in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that more than 12% of current childhood asthma cases in the US can be attributed to gas stove use.”
Let’s dig into a couple of those studies. The Consumer Reports study, which “was funded in part with a grant from the Climate Imperative Foundation,” reports, “None of our testing revealed dangerous levels of carbon monoxide or particulate matter, nor did oxygen drop to unsafe levels.” Testing, with and without ventilation hoods, did reveal nitrogen dioxide. Notably, “While range hoods didn’t eliminate the problem in our tests, they did help.” So turn on the fan. If you don’t have a fan that vents outside, get one. That improves air quality for electric cooking too.
What about that “new” study about asthma? The study was funded in part by Colorado’s Rocky Mountain Institute, which works “to transition global energy systems away from fossil fuels.” The lead author of the paper, Talor Gruenwald, is not a scientist; he has a degree in policy. According to Gruenwald’s current employer, “Prior to Rewiring America, Talor worked at RMI on the Carbon-Free Buildings team.” Might we suspect the study’s authors found the results they were looking for?
Science writer Stuart Ritchie relates, “The December 2022 study that’s got people so exercised is just a brief note that does a little bit of rejigging of some old statistics.”
Ritchie continues, “You can, as these researchers have, calculate the PAF with an underlying assumption that one thing causes another—that stopping gas stove use would mean less asthma–but that’s a big assumption, given that all the studies included in the meta-analysis were correlational. That is, they just collected data on the extent to which gas stoves were used and the rates of asthma, without doing any kind of experiment or intervention to check what causes what.”
He adds, “But it’s actually worse than that. If you look in detail at the meta-analysis, you find that what’s being measured across the 19 different studies they collected is very vague. The specific variable they say they measured was high vs. low gas cooker use. But each study was included ‘independently of the exact definition of high and low exposure’–and might have measured it in very different ways. There’s nothing on how much the gas stove was used, how often the child was in the room; there’s no direct comparison between different kinds of cookers. So one of the sides of our equation—the one with the actual ‘exposure’ that we’re interested in—is rather mushy and unclear.”
Despite the study’s severe limitations, Ritchie, looking at the available evidence, concludes “there is a credible case that gas stove use in the home at least exacerbates asthma symptoms.”
The upshot is that you might not want to use a gas stove if someone in the house has asthma or is prone to it, and if you use a gas stove you probably should make sure it’s well-ventilated. Those are reasonable conclusions, and hence completely uninteresting to the would-be banners.
Incidentally, I use an electric stove, and I like it fine. I mean, I like electrics fine; my particular stove is somewhat annoying (I’m looking at you Maytag, with your stupid “push and turn” knob). My house actually has a gas line to the kitchen, but it was cut off before my family moved in, and I’ve never seen the point of shifting from electric. I’ve never tried an induction stove, but I’ve talked with people who like them. Some people are excited about next-generation electric stoves that come with batteries. So it’s not like gas stoves are some sort of personal crusade for me.
The push to ban gas in Colorado
“Colorado isn’t coming to take away your gas stoves,” left-leaning Denver Post reporter Conrad Swanson assures us. Sound familiar? He’s right insofar as that state government has made no move to ban gas stoves.
However, as Jake Fogleman has reported, the state already has required local jurisdictions to impose “electric and solar-ready code language” in building codes, thereby increasing the cost of new housing. State government may not be coming to remove your gas stoves, but it is certainly giving people a strong “nudge” toward electric.
Some regional governments within Colorado already are enacting bans. Swanson also reported, “Denver is already phasing out natural gas appliances for large commercial buildings—both new and old—but so far there is no similar movement for single-family homes and residences. That’s not good enough, City Councilman Jolon Clark said. He asked to revive a conversation about how to phase out or prohibit gas appliances in new homes early next month.”
Meanwhile, the Aurora Sentinel reports, “Last year, Crested Butte . . . became the first and only locality in the state to ban gas in new buildings. . . . Boulder Mayor Aaron Brockett said the latest gas stove research only increases the council’s interest in exploring a gas ban in new buildings.”
In short, the message from the left is something like, “Look at those right-wing crazies claiming government is coming for your gas stoves! Also, thank goodness government is coming for your gas stoves.”
Sure, it’s worth worrying about the health consequences of how we cook our food. We should worry a lot more about having the sort of government that has the power to dictate how we must cook our food.
Ari Armstrong writes regularly for Complete Colorado and is the author of books about Ayn Rand, Harry Potter, and classical liberalism. He can be reached at ari at ariarmstrong dot com.
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