No sooner had I submitted our comments opposing the Department of Energy’s (DOE) energy conservation standards for cooking products, then this gem came across my desk from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. It relates to the very same law, the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA), that governs the DOE rule. I would have liked to refer to the ruling, but then again, it doesn’t matter, since it dropped from California just at the close of business deadline on the East Coast. The timing is quite delicious, as the proposed rule seeks to underhandedly ban natural gas stoves, likewise in violation of EPCA.
The ruling overturns the City of Berkley’s ban on natural gas hookups because the ordinance violates EPCA’s federal pre-emption of state and local laws regarding the energy use of natural gas appliances.
“The Act expressly preempts State and local regulations concerning the energy use of many natural gas appliances, including those used in household and restaurant kitchens. Instead of directly banning those appliances in new buildings, Berkeley took a more circuitous route to the same result and enacted a building code that prohibits natural gas piping into those buildings, rendering the gas appliances useless.”
As one of the concurring judge’s, Judge Baker stated, “the Berkeley ordinance cut to the heart of what Congress sought to prevent—state and local manipulation of building codes” to in effect ban natural gas appliances and consumption.
But my favorite parts of the ruling come from Trump appointed Judge Bumatay, the first Filipino American federal judge and first openly gay judge on the Ninth Circuit. Multiple times in his ruling he refers to the plain language of the law which Berkley had worked so hard to twist in its zeal to ban natural gas.
Besides appealing to the grammarian in me, as he explains modifying and relative clauses, he also pushed my math nerd buttons by explaining basic math and citing that young children and even crows know what “zero” means.
“Berkeley’s main contention is that its Ordinance doesn’t regulate ‘energy use’ because it bans natural gas rather than prescribes an affirmative ‘quantity of energy.’ While Berkeley concedes that a prohibition on natural gas infrastructure reduces the energy consumed by natural gas appliances in new buildings to ‘zero,’ it argues that ‘zero’ is not a ‘quantity’ and so the Ordinance is not an ‘energy use’ regulation. But that defies the ordinary meaning of ‘quantity.’ In context, ‘quantity’ means ‘a property or attribute that can be expressed in numerical terms.’ Oxford English Dictionary Online (2022). And it is well accepted in ordinary usage that ‘zero’ is a ‘quantity.’…“We doubt that Congress meant to hide an exemption to the plain text of EPCA’s preemption clause in a mathematical equation.”
Be still my beating heart—explaining math, quoting from the Oxford dictionary, and overturning natural gas bans the country over.
A toast to the plaintiffs, the California Restaurant Association. Chefs and restaurateurs shouldn’t have to fight so hard to use gas stoves, which are so far and above preferred as to be akin to taking away paintbrushes from an artist. The ruling may also be helpful in our case against the City of Portland, which has banned the storage and transport of oil, natural gas, and coal.
Gas Stove Rule
While we’re on the subject of government agencies using math deceptively to advance natural gas bans, I’d like to say a few words about our comments on DOE’s energy conservation standards for cook stoves, otherwise known as the gas stove ban rule. I appreciate the collaboration with the American Home Appliance Manufacturers, an organization I had had no contact with prior. They were willing to give me some information on how to read DOE test case tables, of which I had no clue.
Where I could add value was putting the energy and greenhouse gas savings in context. It bugs me and my math sensibilities to no end when agencies try to justify a rule on specious grounds. DOE contends that the savings from the rule are significant by equating the .46 quadrillion BTUs savings over 30 years to the energy use of 19 million households in a single year. EPA does this all the time, claiming say, the methane emissions savings from a rule over decades equates to the GHGs of X million cars on the road in one year.
It’s disingenuous and misleading to compare a three-decade savings to one year’s worth of consumption. So I pulled out my calculator and did the real math for them. The .46 quadrillion British thermal units (quads) over 30 years equates to .0153 quads per year, an insignificant amount given that total annual residential energy use is 21.19 quads, or.07%. Because DOE doesn’t provide a reference for the 19 million households worth of savings, I turned to EIA data showing there are 123.53 million households in the United States, which equates to consumption of 1.682-7 quads per household. Therefore, .0153 quads saved annually by the rule equates to the consumption of 89,473 households annually, much less than the asserted 19 million.
The GHG emissions savings are similarly underwhelming. DOE estimates the rule will save 21.9 million metric tons of CO2 equivalents (MMt-CO2e) over 30 years, or 0.73 MMt-CO2e annually. EPA’s GHG inventory estimates total U.S. emissions at 6,347.7 MMt-CO2e annually. Thus the yearly savings from the proposed rule are equivalent to just 0.001% of U.S. GHGs.
Such small savings justifies handcuffing neither America’s great culinary arts nor home cooking, both made possible by gas stoves.