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Seattle considers banning natural gas in new construction

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Adrian Florez

The City of Seattle is considering a ban on natural gas in new buildings. The goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by encouraging builders to go electric for cooking and heating.

Seattle City Council member Mike O'Brien is proposing the ban. He points out that most of the single-family homes built in Seattle last year were fully electric.

Announcing the proposal Thursday, O'Brien said the legislation "reflects the reality of the science that we have to do it, but it also reflects an acknowledgement that it can be done and is already being done."

The city estimates that natural gas in buildings accounts for about a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions in Seattle. The City Council recently signed a Green New Deal resolution that calls on the city to eliminate emissions by 2030.

Supporters say the ban is a necessary step to reach that goal. They also point to concerns with fracked gas, indoor air pollution, and safety.

Chris Maykut is the founder and former owner of Chaco Canyon Organic Cafe, which was hit in the 2016 natural gas explosion in Seattle's Greenwood neighborhood.

"It's the right thing to do," Maykut said of the ban. "It's OK to move on from old technology and old ways of thinking."

The ban would only apply to new construction. There also could be exemptions for businesses like restaurants. 

Puget Sound Energy supplies natural gas to Seattle. Spokeswoman Janet Kim says the utility is taking a wait-and-see approach.

"We do look forward to working with policy makers on a thorough analysis," Kim said.

The utility is still investing in natural gas as it continues work on a controversial liquefied natural gas facility in Tacoma and on a gas pipeline expansion north of Seattle.

Berkeley, California, passed a smilar ban on new natural gas hook-ups earlier this summer. The local utility there came out in support of the measure.

"There's obviously a threat to the natural gas business, but there's also a huge opportunity to an electric company like Puget Sound Energy," Council member O'Brien said Thursday. 

O'Brien says the eventual goal is to convert all of Seattle's buildings off natural gas. But that process will likely take a lot longer and require more thought.

"We have 10 years to make a transition," O'Brien said. "We have to do that transition in a just way."

The Seattle City Council will begin deliberating Friday on the proposed natural gas ban.

A Seattle native and former KNKX intern, Simone Alicea spent four years as a producer and reporter at KNKX. She earned her Bachelor's of Journalism from Northwestern University and covered breaking news for the Chicago Sun-Times. During her undergraduate career, she spent time in Cape Town, South Africa, covering metro news for the Cape Times.