House Republicans are relighting the flames of their gas stoves culture war.
GOP lawmakers will use a subcommittee hearing and committee vote Wednesday to step up their attacks on the Biden administration’s efforts to regulate the kitchen appliances, portraying proposed efficiency standards from the Energy Department as federal overreach.
President Joe Biden, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and the head of the Consumer Product Safety Commission have all disavowed any desire to outlaw gas-fired cooktops, although multiple Democratic-led cities and states have sought to do just that for new buildings.
“Nobody’s taking my gas stove. Nobody will take your gas stove,” Granholm testified this month.
But that’s not dimming the fervor of Republicans, who have previously cried foul at federal efficiency standards for light bulbs, showers and toilets — the last of which was a particularly favorite cause of former President Donald Trump.
They note that DOE has proposed a significant expansion of efficiency regulations on gas stoves, an effort that would make them more fuel efficient and curb the burning of planet-warming methane, as well as reduce emissions leakage. Meanwhile, the consumer commission has opened an inquiry into the stoves’ emissions and health effects.
“Next up on the Biden Administration’s radical green agenda chopping block are Americans’ gas stoves,” said Rep. Pat Fallon (R-Texas), the chair of the House Oversight subcommittee on regulatory affairs, in a statement ahead of Wednesday morning’s hearing by his panel.
Industry pushback has been similarly filled with culinary metaphors.
“Thankfully, Julia Child was able to cook her masterful creations and have her gas range displayed in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History before DOE had a chance to ban it,” the American Gas Association wrote in its comments last month on DOE’s proposal.
In addition to Wednesday’s Oversight subcommittee hearing, the Energy and Commerce Committee will mark up legislation — H.R. 1640 (118) — aimed at stopping DOE from finishing or enforcing its new proposed energy efficiency standards, as well as a bill — H.R. 1615 (118) — aimed at blocking the consumer commission from using federal funds to ban gas stoves.
Efficiency advocates say the attack on DOE’s proposed rule — which includes no outright ban on gas stoves — is based on a willful misunderstanding of the facts.
“The manufacturers of the product who are seeking to avoid regulation have fanned the flames of controversy over what’s really a very modest standard that requires slight incremental improvements to gas stoves — and electric ones too, by the way,” said Andrew deLaski, executive director of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project.
Manufacturers who oppose the proposed action, however, point to “sloppy” changes in DOE’s analysis and methodology on the efficiency regulation that they say overstate how many stoves will comply with the proposed standards.
Jill Notini, vice president of communications and marketing at the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, said DOE’s proposal is “essentially” a ban on gas products because it would force the appliances to be redesigned so dramatically that that they will no longer be desirable.
“[DOE has] not taken action on gas cooking products in the past,” Notini said. She added that “nothing has changed except a drive for using more electric products.”
DOE did not respond to a request for comment on the Hill action this week, nor industry comments.
Supporters of the DOE proposal say the department is fulfilling its legal and statutory authority after years of lapsed action under the Trump administration. DOE is under a court order to issue a final gas stove rule by January.
“It’s not some war on gas products or gas stoves or your kitchen or anything like that,” said Joe Vukovich, an energy efficiency advocate at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “It’s a program that saves consumers money and is good for the environment.”
Fallon is expected to say during Wednesday’s hearing that Republicans know DOE has the authority to regulate energy efficiency standards for appliances and has done so for decades without issue, but will argue that since Biden has taken office, “he made clear from day one that he was on a mission to abolish fossil fuels.”
“Under his watch, energy prices have skyrocketed while agencies push through rules to suppress energy production and hurt American energy independence,” Fallon said in prepared remarks shared with POLITICO.
DeLaski, who is set to testify before the Oversight panel that the gas ban rhetoric is “a red herring,” acknowledged that DOE “did a very poor job of explaining” itself in the initial proposal. But he said manufacturers took advantage of that poor presentation to cast it as a wholesale ban.
DOE first posted the proposed rule in December. It later issued a notice providing further information in February.
The rule would leave basic stove models that make up about half of the market untouched and propose “modest” changes to commercial-grade models to meet the proposed standard, deLaski said. Granholm echoed that this month, telling lawmakers the proposal looked only at high-end gas stoves. And Deputy Energy Secretary David Turk previously testified that every major manufacturer already has gas models that meet or exceed the proposed level.
History demonstrates that despite companies’ complaints, they can improve their products and meet new standards, said Dan Reicher, a Clinton-era assistant Energy secretary who is now a senior research scholar at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.
“There’s frequently concern about stricter standards, but in almost all cases the manufacturers have risen to the challenges and consumers and the environment are the beneficiaries,” Reicher said.
Gas stoves became the new hot front in January after the Consumer Product Safety Commission said it would look at their risks and possibly impose health regulations — with one member telling Bloomberg that the action could, theoretically, result in a product ban. Republicans seized on that headline, even after the commission’s chair publicly said a ban is not going to happen.
Just weeks later, DOE published an energy efficiency proposal covering gas stoves as well as electric stoves and ovens. DOE estimated that around half the stoves now on the market would not meet its proposed standard, which critics immediately cited as a restriction on consumer choice.
But setting efficiency regulations is a far cry from a ban, Reicher said.
The idea also struck a nerve at the national level because some Democratic-led states, including California, New York and Washington, are pushing increasingly aggressive gas bans within their borders.
“Now we see other states doing it because of the direction of the Democratic administration,” said Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), chair of the Energy and Commerce energy, climate and grid security subcommittee. “We shouldn’t limit what appliances the American consumer has the option to purchase.”
A federal appellate court landed a blow against those local efforts in April when it ruled that a Berkeley city ordinance banning gas hookups in new buildings ran afoul of federal law. Experts are still debating the impact of that ruling on other cities’ and states’ bans.
Josh Siegel contributed to this report.
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