House to consider blocking cities from banning natural gas

The Ohio Statehouse. Photo by Jake Zuckerman.

An Ohio House committee sent legislation to the floor Wednesday that would prohibit local governments from blocking consumers from obtaining natural gas hookups.

House Bill 201, as passed by Republicans on the House Energy Committee, prohibits cities from passing laws that “limits the use of, prohibits, or prevents residential, commercial, or industrial consumers within their boundaries from obtaining distribution service or retail natural gas service.”

The fossil fuel industry and Ohio Chamber of Commerce supported the bill, arguing it protects consumer choice and avoids a mishmash of local energy regulations for businesses to navigate.

Environmental advocates and groups representing local governments opposed, arguing they starve cities of rights to self-governance and action against climate change.

Since 2019, local governments, generally in progressive cities, have passed legislation banning natural gas hookups as new buildings are erected. The policies amount to a municipal effort to fight climate change brought on by fossil fuel reliance.

Conservative state legislatures like Arizona, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Texas, meanwhile, have passed bills blocking the cities’ actions, as the Ohio legislation would.

“These [municipal] proposals are usually presented as a means of addressing climate concerns. However, preventing consumer choice as a means of promoting the aspirational goals of local jurisdictions seeking to address climate concerns is disingenuous and ineffective,” said Chris Ziegler of the American Petroleum Institute, a prominent trade association for the oil and gas industry.

Some Ohio cities, including  Cleveland, Cincinnati, Euclid and Lakewood, have all passed resolutions establishing a goal of operating on 100% clean, renewable energy by 2025.

Randi Leppla, speaking to lawmakers on behalf of the Ohio Environmental Council, said there’s a contradiction afoot: House Bill 118, which has some of the same cosponsors as HB 201, would establish a referendum process for citizens to vote down wind and solar power generating sites.

If both bills passed, communities would have no ability to limit natural gas use and a unique ability to kill renewable energy.

“Unfortunately, HB 201 and the other pending bills appear to be another backdoor route to block Ohioans and Ohio communities from choosing to move toward renewable energy as their chosen energy source,” Leppla said.

Alongside the environmentalists, entities representing cities and counties accused HB 201 of violating “home rule,” a piece of the state constitutions that allows local governments to set their own rules.

The amendment, however, is far from a blanket rule. State lawmakers have prohibited cities from different ideas like banning or taxing plastic bags at the grocery store, limiting gun rights beyond state law, and a spread of other issues.

“House Bill 201 further erodes Ohio’s Constitutionally protected Home Rule authority by barring any political subdivision by ordinance, resolution, building code, or other similar requirement from limiting, preventing, or prohibiting any consumer within its boundaries from obtaining distribution services or retail natural gas service,” said Keary McCarthy, executive director of the Ohio Mayors Alliance.

About 65% of Ohio homes use natural gas for heat, far beyond electricity (25%), propane (5%) and others, according to analysis from the nonpartisan Legislative Service Commission.

During the last legislative session, lawmakers passed House Bill 6, now the center of a federal prosecution against the former Speaker of the House for bribery allegations. Along with bailing out coal and nuclear plants, HB 6 rolled back utility companies’ renewable energy and efficiency standards.

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