By Jake Zuckerman and Ohio Capital Journal

Gov. Mike DeWine signed into state law Thursday legislation that blocks cities or counties from banning natural gas or propane hookups to decarbonize new buildings.

This makes Ohio one of 19 states that have either passed what’s known as a natural gas “preemption” bill into law or will do so soon upon gubernatorial approval, according to a running count from the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The legislation, backed by fossil industries like the Ohio Oil and Gas Association and the Ohio Chemistry Technology Council, would block any city or county from issuing any law or zoning code that “limits, prohibits, or prevents” people and businesses from obtaining natural gas or propane service.

A small but growing list of progressive cities around the country have passed legislation banning new buildings from obtaining natural gas hookups in an effort to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.

However, no Ohio cities have yet done so. House Bill 201 locks this dynamic into state law.

The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Jason Stephens, R-Kitts Hill, passed the House largely along party lines with Democrats in opposition. It passed the Senate on a party-line vote.

State Rep. Jason Stephens, R-Kitts Hill

Supporters of the legislation argued consumers should have a choice as to what kind of energy they wish to purchase. They also argued a patchwork approach to energy policy by city or county would be unworkable.

“It will ensure that each of our constituents with natural gas service now, will continue to have access to natural gas service in the future,” Stephens said.

Opponents, namely environmental advocates, argued the bill is just an industry-backed maneuver to guarantee demand for natural gas, despite its contributions to climate change. Associations representing local governments also said the bill infringes on their rights to self-governance established in the “home rule” provision in the state constitution.

“It’s clearly not a piece of legislation about what’s best for Ohio,” said Dan Sawmiller, Ohio energy policy director for the NRDC, in a previous interview. “It’s about what’s best for the fossil fuel industry.”

Some also pointed to the seemingly contradictory Senate Bill 52, which lawmakers passed early Tuesday morning. It would allow county commissioners to kill potential wind and solar projects early in their development. DeWine has not yet signed the legislation.

“This is a bill that’s telling local governments they can’t ban a particular energy source [gas], and we just had discussions on a bill that expressly tells governments you can ban an energy source [wind and solar],” noted Sen. Matt Dolan, R-Chagrin Falls, at a committee hearing on the gas bill.

About two-thirds of Ohio households use natural gas for heat, far more than electricity (25%), propane (5%) or other sources, according to U.S. Census data compiled by the Legislative Service Commission, which conducts policy analysis for state lawmakers.

Along with the preemption, the new law states that anyone who wants natural gas service has “the right to obtain any available distribution service or retail natural gas service from a natural gas company with capacity to provide” it. 

Jake Zuckerman
Jake Zuckerman is a statehouse reporter. He spent three years chronicling the West Virginia Legislature for The Charleston Gazette-Mail after covering cops and courts for The Northern Virginia Daily.

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