The debate over gas stoves continues to heat up, with legislators in some states moving to ban the appliances or, alternatively, ban attempts to ban them.
Although US Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm recently dismissed rumors of a potential federal ban on the stoves, earlier this month the agency proposed introducing more extensive regulations for the products. This comes after the US Consumer Product Safety Commission made suggested a ban on gas stoves, although that proposal was rescinded following widespread public pushback.
What ignited the debate in the first place?
There are two main talking points, both of which focus on the risk of emissions presented by natural gas. Although marketed as “clean” energy for much of the 20th Century, devices that operate by gas combustion commonly create byproducts such as methane and nitrogen dioxide (NO2), presenting both environmental risks and a potential threat to personal safety. A study published in December by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health claims that 13% of childhood asthma cases in the United States can be directly attributed to NO2 produced by gas stove usage, with some states (including Massachusetts) recording even higher rates of correlation.
Although ventilation hoods are designed to mitigate emissions produced by stoves, the widely-circulated study noted that the hoods “were associated with the reduction, but not the elimination, of childhood asthma risk.”
Many stoves are paired with Hepa (high efficiency particulate absorbing) filters, which do little to remove gaseous pollutants like nitrogen dioxide. A study by Harvard University of gas stoves in the Southern New England area indicated that 5% of local stoves leak gas even when not in use, although the leaks may be so small that the human nose cannot detect the odor added to natural gas for safety. Even small leaks can expose residents to harmful carcinogens like benzene. The environmental impact of greenhouse gases like methane can also be substantial; the American Chemical Society estimates the total carbon footprint of America’s gas stoves over the past two decades to be comparable to half a million automobiles.
Approximately 150,000 Rhode Islanders currently use gas stoves, which account for 35% of the cooking done in the state. So far, no ban on gas stoves has been proposed in Rhode Island. That hasn’t stopped the state from being mentioned in the national debate, however: a fiery article by The Washington Times recently alleged that Rhode Island was among six states with government officials who had “met secretly to plot the end of gas stoves and appliances” with various environmental groups. The tabloid (which has well-known editorial ties to the Unification Church, more widely known as “Moonies”) claims that representatives from the RI Department of Environmental Management were among those who attended a meeting in New York in 2019 laying out plans to eliminate natural gas within 30 years. Other commentators have suggested that the entire debate is fueled by outrage manufactured by political pundits and the natural gas industry. Whether or not a purported plot is in the pipeline, Rhode Island has been gradually moving to discontinue the use of natural gas.
The Public Utilities Commission met Feb. 9 to discuss plans for creating a zero-emission economy by 2050. Among the various ideas discussed during the public forum was the possibility of a moratorium on new gas hookups, similar to proposals enacted in Los Angeles and New York City within recent months. Other suggestions included the possibility of gradually eliminating natural gas distribution within that timeframe. According to local restauranteurs, the option of gradually phasing out new hookups would minimize the short-term commercial impact of transitioning.
“If they follow the bills that have already been introduced, the focus is more on residential properties,” said Mike Penta, co-owner of the two Gel’s Kitchen locations.
“It would be virtually impossible for restaurants to serve customers at any scale using all-electric appliances. I don’t even know if we’re ready to go electric just for personal use yet: people are getting cars they can’t even plug in and charge. How well do you think an electric fryolator is going to work?”
Silvan Garcia, head chef at the Governor Francis Inn in Warwick, expressed similar enthusiasm for the gas-powered appliances used at the establishment.
“We have three gas stoves with six burners each, and we have something cooking on every one of them when it gets busy,” he said. “We couldn’t keep up the pace with electric. It takes longer and the food just doesn’t come out the same.”
Several appliance stores that spoke with the Beacon and Herald indicated that they remain on edge to see how new regulations could affect their current inventory. Recent efficiency regulations proposed by the Department of Energy could see at least half (and perhaps as many as 95%) of current gas stove models removed from the market.
Anyone interested in making the transition from gas to electric can receive a rebate through the Department of Energy as part of the Inflation Reduction Act. Consumers purchasing a new induction stove can be reimbursed up to $840, with an additional $500 for anyone switching away from a gas or propane stove. Cooks committed to keeping their gas stoves are advised to ensure that ventilation hoods are always turned on prior to use, and to consider opening a window to further prevent the buildup of dangerous gases. They are also encouraged to consider switching to an activated charcoal filter, which (unlike more common hepa filters) are capable of neutralizing NO2.
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