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A Closer Look at One WA City's Natural-Gas Ban Proposal

In 2018, Bellingham City Council stepped up its climate goals, pledging to be carbon neutral by 2035. (CascadeCreatives/Adobe Stock)
In 2018, Bellingham City Council stepped up its climate goals, pledging to be carbon neutral by 2035. (CascadeCreatives/Adobe Stock)
January 24, 2020

BELLINGHAM, Wash. - Bellingham has made national headlines recently over a proposal to ban residential use of natural gas in its quest to be carbon neutral by 2035. But proponents of the plan say misinformation abounds on what the city's trying to do.

Dr. Charles Barnhart, who was part of the Bellingham Climate Action Plan Task Force, notes it isn't the first city to move in this direction - Berkeley, California for example, banned the potent greenhouse gas in new buildings last year.

Barnhart says the task force took it a step further, and suggested natural gas furnaces and burners be replaced with electric heat pumps when it's time for new equipment.

"The other thing that I feel that some citizens of Bellingham are getting upset about is they think it's happening tomorrow," says Barnhart. "It's not. It's 2035 - it's 15 years from now. And so, chances are boilers or heat pumps will need replacement at that stage anyway."

The proposal hasn't been formally introduced to the city council.

Opponents say there'd be a hefty price tag for swapping out equipment. Barnhart believes there are ways to mitigate expenses, given the lower energy costs of electric heat pumps.

The Northwest Gas Association says it will spend $1,000,000 in the region to promote natural gas benefits.

Imran Sheikh, who teaches environmental science at Western Washington University, helped the task force research getting carbon out of the residential sector - an important factor in curbing climate change. Sheikh says the proposal is achievable.

"Right now, the city is facing that challenge and looking at a few different strategies to do that," says Sheikh. "I think it is certainly attainable - you know, it's technically possible. Whether it's politically feasible is to be determined."

Matt Krogh is with 'Stand.Earth,' a group that launched the Standing Against Fossil Fuel Expansion or "SAFE Cities" program. While they might employ similar tactics, he says each community will have to map its own path to clean energy.

"That process is going to be undermined every step of the way by the fossil-fuel interests," says Krogh. "And it's really important that we keep our eye on the prize, which is clean energy, and not get sucked back into this sort of 'dirty energy' economy."

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA