Sponsor says Iowa bill to block natural gas restrictions has path to approval

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Lyle Muller/IowaWatch

Iowa Statehouse.

The sponsor of an Iowa bill that would prohibit cities or counties from regulating the sale of natural gas or propane said he is confident the legislation will make it to the governor’s desk after recently clearing committee votes in both chambers.

State Sen. Jason Schultz, a Republican from southwest Iowa, said his bill (SF 455) is meant to counter the “radical left environmental agenda” in Des Moines, where the City Council recently adopted a goal of transitioning to carbon-free electricity citywide by 2035.

The Iowa House Commerce Committee approved the measure on Feb. 15 by a 16-4 vote, and the Senate Commerce Committee approved similar language 13-4 on Feb. 24. Schultz expects votes soon on the House and Senate floors. 

The proposal is part of a flurry of Republican bills nationwide aimed at stopping local governments from following the lead of Berkeley, California, which in 2019 approved the nation’s first ban on natural gas hookups in newly constructed buildings. No such proposal has been introduced or discussed in Des Moines.

“I’d like to leave that problem in California,” Schultz told the Energy News Network. “Picking and choosing energy sources is best left to citizens at their own home.”

Schultz’s campaign has received contributions from Koch Industries’ political action committee, as well as those representing the state’s major natural gas utilities, MidAmerican Energy and Alliant Energy.

Building heat has emerged as a frontline in the fight against climate change, with many clean energy groups lobbying for a transition from natural gas to electric heat pumps and other alternatives. In Iowa, buildings account for more than a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions, second only behind agriculture.

Kerri Johannsen, who lobbies for clean energy for the Iowa Environmental Council, said the proposal has economic implications as well.

“We don’t have methane and propane gas resources here, and there is no reason for our legislature to be protecting imported fossil fuels over cheaper, cleaner, Iowa renewable energy resources,” Johannsen wrote in an email. “Iowa communities should have the flexibility to use resources that Iowa can produce to meet their energy needs.”

Similar legislation is advancing in other states, including Kansas, where the state Senate has already approved a bill on a party-line vote and a committee hearing is scheduled next week in the House. 

Kansas Sierra Club lobbyist Zack Pistora, noting the state’s substantial Republican majority, gave the legislation a “good chance” of passing but said it would be a mistake, and that last month’s Arctic blast demonstrated the risk of relying too heavily on natural gas.

“Our dependence on natural gas is what put us in a pretty dire place,” he said. “If we had an opportunity for cities to consider ways to … explore alternatives like all-electric homes, conservation practices and building codes, potentially we could have lessened the severity of that event.”

A bill in Indiana that includes a prohibition on building electrification requirements passed the House there on a 66-28 vote. Jesse Kharbanda, executive director of the Hoosier Environmental Council, expects it to be heard in the Senate Utilities Committee in the next couple of weeks. A floor vote is likely, he said, “based on the fact that the sponsor of the bill is the chairman of the Senate Utilities Committee and he holds sway on utility issues.”

The bill’s language goes far beyond outlawing bans of natural gas appliances in new buildings. It also disallows municipalities from regulating sales of gas stoves and furnaces, and forbids them from imposing any energy-related requirement in structures.

The Energy News Network is a nonprofit news organization that covers the energy industry. IowaWatch periodically republishes stories by ENN.