Threats of natural gas bans scare restaurants – The Hill


history at a glance

  • Restaurants across the country are beginning to worry about a natural gas ban coming to their city.

  • The push to phase out natural gas appliances stems from environmental and health risks posed by the fuel.

  • Owners point to the cost impact such a policy would have on their restaurants, while chefs say a ban could limit the cuisine available.

restrictions on natural gas powered devices have raised alarms among chefs and restaurant owners alike, who fear any ban on gas stoves will fundamentally change the way some kitchens cook and pose significant cost issues.

Even though 21 states With preemption laws in place barring future natural gas ban laws, more than 60 cities in California have taken steps to phase out the devices, while New York and other states have enacted similar proposals to combat climate change.

“It’s spreading pretty quickly,” Jot Condie, president and CEO of the California Restaurant Association (CRA), said in an interview with Changing America. “Think global, act local is important, but developing an energy policy city by city is not a smart way to do it. And we’re watching that unfold in real time,” Condie said.

The CRA is located in the middle of a Complaint against it Berkeley, California – the first city in the country to introduce a ban on natural gas connections in all new construction. A verdict is expected before spring 2023, Condie said.

The majority of implemented directives do not outright ban the use of natural gas in commercial buildings. Instead, they aim to steer new build or renovations away from using the fuel by requiring future structures not to include gas connections or infrastructure. some laws work out exceptions for commercial restaurants.

According to internal data from the National Restaurant Association, 76 percent of US restaurants use natural gas, while 94 percent of owners who use gas in their operations say a ban would negatively impact their business.

What are the tradeoffs?

Burning natural gas does not emit nearly as much carbon dioxide as other fossil fuels like coal and oil. But methane and pollutant leaks during the extraction, production and distribution process raise environmental concerns.

Methane is the second most common greenhouse gas produced by human activities, according to the Environmental Protection Agencyand is 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere.

Leaks in natural gas appliances also raise health concerns. That’s what a new study by researchers in California has found even when switched offGas stoves in kitchens can emit concentrations of benzene comparable to those found in secondhand smoke.

Benzene is a known carcinogen and exposure can cause leukemia.

“Natural gas leaks are a source of dangerous air pollutants that have been largely overlooked,” said Drew Michanowicz, co-author of the study in one Publication.

“Policies that phase out gas appliances are not only good for our climate, our study shows that these policies also provide important public health benefits by improving indoor and outdoor air quality.”

But for restaurants, the guidelines were passed too quickly and with little regard for the industry, owners and officials say.

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“There are certain ones types of food and certain culinary techniques that really require a flame in some way, shape or form to function and also for consistency and quality purposes,” said Mike Whatley, vice president of state affairs and grassroots representation at the National Restaurant Association. “This is an issue that is particularly and uniquely affecting restaurateurs as it impacts the product we serve.”

The organization’s data shows that 90 percent of operators who use natural gas say losing the ability to cook with an open flame would negatively impact the quality of food served. “The technology to replicate the flame isn’t there yet for a commercial setting,” Condie said.

Gas appliances are also traditional cheaper to run than electric, although utility costs may vary depending on a restaurant’s location.

A lack of consistent policy poses challenges for restaurant groups operating in different states or cities, with some applying only to new construction and others to renovations.

“We want to be a productive player and part of the conversation when it comes to environmental protection,” Whatley said, but “overall, the industry has concerns that the ability to create a natural gas flame via a natural gas ban will be lost entirely.”

Other restaurateurs argue that only a small portion of emissions come from the commercial sector, but the majority come from transport or industrial pollution.

In California, six percent of greenhouse gases comes from the commercial sector and an even smaller portion comes from restaurants, Condie said. In 2020, commercial and residential sectors were eliminated 13 percent of all US greenhouse gas emissions, with the majority coming from natural gas consumption.

“I think everyone understands that climate change is absolutely critical,” he noted, but “it just seems like they’re tackling this problem at the local level first, [with] an industry that is the least able and least able to make the switch to electricity than probably many other industries.”

What owners say

In 2020, the City of Ann Arbor, Michigan passed its A2 zero Plan that aims to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030. The plan does not prohibit new natural gas infrastructure, but includes initiatives to reduce commercial use of natural gas by promoting corporate electrification.

A right of first refusal that would prohibit legislation on natural gas bans was passed introduced in the statebut was not issued.

Kevin Gudejko is President and CEO of Mainstreet Ventures Restaurant Group, which operates nine restaurants in Michigan and four in Ann Arbor. The group also operates in Florida, Ohio and West Virginia.

A few years ago, one of the Main Street restaurants converted to using induction burners exclusively. “We spent about $12 or $13,000 updating our electrical system there,” Gudejko said, as the previous infrastructure couldn’t provide enough power.

As a mid-sized company, Mainstreet Ventures will be able to adapt and absorb some of the transition costs, Gudejko said, but he worries the move to electric may be less feasible for smaller, family-owned businesses.

Increased demand for the state’s power grid, which already is before challengescould pose additional problems.

“I think there’s a place for it, but I just don’t see how an outright ban can work for our industry.”

While induction burners heat up quickly and can be energy efficient, when it comes to fine dining and more finesse, there are open-flame techniques that burners can’t replicate, Gudejko said.

At some of Gudejko’s steakhouses, for example, “we use char grills to get that really crispy outer edge. [It] It’s really quite difficult, almost impossible, to char something on an induction burner.”

Tom Hutchinson, co-owner of La Posta de Mesilla and Hacienda de Mesilla in Las Cruces, NM, voiced additional concerns about the move away from gas stoves. Hutchinson previously served on the board of directors of the National Restaurant Association and currently serves on the board of directors for New Mexico.

Hutchinson uses natural gas for all of its restaurant amenities. “A switch to electricity is certainly possible, but it just puts demands on the grid,” he said. “I don’t think the grid is there, the electrical power is there to make the transition,” for all the restaurants in the state.

New Mexico has no pending gas ban proposals, but it’s also not among those with first refusal rights. It’s in the top 10 Natural gas producing countries in the country.

Hutchinson echoed Gudejko’s concerns, saying “we would have to buy all new equipment for our restaurants, we would have to remodel our kitchens” if a ban were to be enacted. “It would be terribly expensive to do this conversion today.”

Although chefs could likely transition to induction over time, many have been trained to prepare food over an open flame, while the ability to control the size of that flame is vital to some kitchens.

“These are people who know their craft very, very well. They are professionals. They understand the importance of the energy source they use to heat and cook their food,” Hutchinson said.

“I think too often we rush into these new ideas without understanding what’s really happening and what the real impact is,” Hutchinson added, suggesting running test cases to better understand how the transition is impacting could.

“We have to be very, very careful not to move too quickly.”


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