Letter, Opinion

Opinion on natural gas was wrong

Dear Editor,

In the Jan 25 edition of The Mountain Times, environmental activist Bill McKibben opined about health and environmental risks of household gas stoves. He tries to make the case that nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emitted by stoves is a leading cause of asthma and he cites statistical studies to back that up. It strikes me that legislation to ban new installations of gas stoves is exactly the wrong thing to do and is not based on science.

Correlation does not equal causation. The latest studies published by environmentalists and public health activists try to pass off statistical correlation as the cause. One such report that made the rounds in congress and news shows in December was the Rocky Mountain Institute’s study, “Gas Stoves: Health and Air Quality Impacts and Solutions. It used statistics to postulate that gas stoves cause asthma in children. It cited health statistics from mostly large urban areas where kitchen gas is prominent and compared them to households that use electricity, typically suburban or rural. That’s it  — just statistics with no scientific method and no control for comorbidity (e.g. obesity) or urbanicity. Facing scrutiny, on Jan. 13 this year RMI was forced to retract their conclusions and admitted that the paper does not demonstrate a cause-effect relationship between gas stove use and asthma and that they did not actually test any gas stoves.

The broad view beyond the U.S. also contradicts any cause and effect role of NO2, given present standards. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), 38% of U.S. homes are connected to natural gas for cooking; Europe has a much higher installed base with 82% of homes using gas. Yet the incidence of asthma in Europe is half that of the U.S. (4% vs 8%), per the WHO. If there was a direct gas-asthma cause in humans, you’d expect Europe would be full of asthmatics, but they’re not. The anti-gas activists also claim the NO2 from stoves causes Learning Disabilities. Yet, Europe’s incidence of that is just 1.33% vs. U.S. at 5.62%, per the WHO. Skeptical, yet?

Unfortunately, these agenda-driven studies cast a shadow on solid gov’t research about NO2 done in the past and recently.

The EPA has studied NO2 emissions since the 1970s and they identified harmful effects from heavy NO2 exposure. So since 2010, all gas stoves sold in the U.S. must meet the EPA standard of safe max exposure of 100 parts per billion (ppb) per hour. By 2018, EPA had identified three medical studies demonstrating a possible cause link between NO2 and asthma in children. But again, the exposure levels of NO2 studied were much higher than existing standards. So EPA left the standards in place and to be reviewed again in 2023. This decision to wait was not a ‘Trump call’ and was fully supported by the non-partisan Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC), which advises the EPA on science issues. 

Enter Biden Politics. Unfortunately, the Biden administration now has stepped in front of the EPA’s planned scientific process and shifted responsibility for review and banning gas stoves to the politically-appointed Consumer Products Safety Council, which has no medical or scientific mandate from Congress. Its review is underway, so expect fireworks.

If health and safety is the primary concern here, then banning new installations of gas stoves is exactly the wrong thing to do. Today’s building codes require any new construction to be well-ventilated and modern stoves operate without pilot lights and test well below EPA NO2 ppb standards. I believe the focus should be on replacing older gas stoves with current generation and modernizing existing buildings ventilation to get up to current code. And I can see a time coming soon where today’s smoke/CO detectors and NO2 detectors will be integrated into a single affordable unit. Those should be mandatory in apartment buildings that are kitchened with natural gas and highly recommended for private homes.

On the other hand, if greenhouse gas is the primary concern for banning natural gas from kitchens, the reality is that the U.S. can’t fully transition to an ultra-low fossil fuel economy until 2050 at the earliest. Modernizing today’s home gas devices — rather than mandating them from existence – will stabilize emissions and give electricity producers and distribution utilities time to make smart power generation and grid upgrade investments. That’s the direction we should move.

If you just plain don’t want to use your current gas or inefficient electric stove and don’t want to buy new, the induction cooktops that McKibben suggests are simple alternatives.

Either way, make your views known to Senators Welch and Sanders. 

Charles Grace,


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