Colorado House committee kills bill that would have protected natural gas, propane use

Matt Whittaker

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A natural gas stove.Jake Kitchener/ Flickr

By Matt Whittaker / NewsBreak Denver

(Denver, Colo.) State lawmakers Thursday killed a bill that would have prevented local governments from banning natural gas and propane in what opponents called a move to prop up the fossil fuel industry.

The bill's sponsor, Republican Rep. Dan Woog, said he introduced the measure to allow Coloradans to choose which energy source they want to use to keep energy costs down in a time of spiking bills and to keep new-home costs in check.

"Government, for me, shouldn't be mandating exactly what type of stove you use," said Woog, who represents constituents in Weld County, the state's biggest natural gas producer. "We need to allow people those choices."

But Democrats on the House Energy and Environment Committee voted on Thursday to not let the measure proceed, saying it would prevent municipalities from making their own decisions about energy infrastructure, hinder local pushes for decarbonizing the electric grid to tackle climate change, and wouldn't end up saving Coloradans money.

Bill supported by oil, gas interests

In November, the Denver City Council unanimously voted to require commercial and large apartment buildings "when cost effective" to gradually phase out natural gas systems with electric heating and cooling.

"Forced electrification is a real thing going through Colorado community by community," said Republican Rep. Andres Pico, who supported the bill, as did the state's fossil fuel industry.

Richard Cooledge, director of public affairs for the Colorado Oil & Gas Association, said keeping energy options open is important because of the wide range of building materials, designs and ages of homes in the state, where temperatures can vary widely.

"Bans on natural gas would prevent American families from using a domestically produced, cleaner-burning, affordable and reliable fuel source," said American Petroleum Institute spokesman Justin Prendergast.

Natural gas stoves create indoor pollution

But committee members didn’t buy it, instead agreeing with those who voiced opposition to the bill at the meeting.

Barbara Donachy, a co-founder of Colorado Physicians for Social Responsibility, said studies show that limiting the use of natural gas and propane has positive health benefits by reducing direct exposure to in-home pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and small particulate matter.

Lower-income families suffer more because smaller homes have higher rates of indoor air pollution, and opening a window may not be an option as these areas often have higher levels of outdoor air pollution too, she said.

In addition to prohibiting state and local governments from limiting or banning the use of natural gas and propane for generating electricity, cooking, heating water, or space heating in homes and businesses, the bill also said governments couldn't prohibit "solar photovoltaics, micro wind turbines, or small hydroelectric power."

Including the renewable energy sources in its language clouded the bill's true intent, which is to support the fossil fuel industry of Weld County, said Erie trustee Christiaan van Woudenberg.

"This bill fits really well into a nationwide campaign launched by fossil industry interests to really buck up their profits, their bottom lines, at the expense of consumers," said Alejandra Mejia Cunningham, building decarbonization advocate with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

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Matt Whittaker writes about natural resources industries, including oil and gas, mining, renewable energy, agriculture and cannabis. He's been based in the Denver metro area since 2013. You can follow him on Twitter @mattswhittaker.

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