January 21, 2023
Written By David Goldstein
Gas stoves have been entangled by a social media kerfuffle in recent weeks after a U.S. Consumer Product Safety commissioner’s comments prompted exaggerated responses that government agents would be coming for said stoves.
Amid the drama, regulators have been described as technocratic authoritarians. But through examples in Ventura County, we can see how agencies actually address polluting products.
First, regulators prioritize. For example, the Ventura County Air Pollution Control District is indeed targeting a type of stove, but it is not natural gas. The district is going after wood-fired stoves. The remedy, however, uses incentives, not seizures.
For a limited time, the air district, in partnership with the California Air Resources Board, will offer up to $5,000 to qualifying homeowners who replace inefficient, highly polluting wood stoves, wood insert, or fireplaces used as a primary source of heat. Rebates for installing cleaner, more efficient heating devices depend on residence location and household income. New heating devices must be installed by one of the air district’s partnering retailers.
Similarly, the district and the state board are targeting gas-powered mowers and leaf blowers. Although bans may eventually prevent sale of new ones, the solution for existing devices is also based on incentives. A voucher program to replace commercially used combustion equipment with new electric-powered equipment is being developed.
The air district’s incentives program may be reached at 805-303-3678.
Regulators generally eschew confiscations of targeted items, preferring bans on new sales and incentives to eliminate old products. What’s more, natural gas is not a short-term target. Rather, natural gas is often seen as a transition fuel, easing the move from more polluting fuels such as diesel.
For example, local trash truck fleets have replaced diesel vehicles with natural gas. Oxnard reports 90% of its trucks now run on natural gas. WM — formerly Waste Management — reported nearly 75% of the company’s national fleet running on natural gas before last year.
Even better, the fleets of Harrison Industries and Athens Services have not only reached 100% conversion, the companies use renewable natural gas, or RNG, made from rotting waste, rather than fossil fuel. All Harrison trash trucks use RNG. Athens fuels with RNG at its main location in Sun Valley and will at its site being built in Thousand Oaks.
Eventually, regulators do call for a transition away from natural gas vehicles. California requires 75% of commercial trucks, including garbage trucks, to be “emission free” by 2035, and all large truck fleets to be “zero emission” by 2042. With today’s technology, electric or hydrogen vehicles would qualify, but if these vehicles are not available by the deadline, the mandate may have to change.
Moreover, truly emission-free trucking would depend on manufacturing of “green hydrogen” from non-carbon sources or on an electric grid powered entirely by renewables. Measuring tailpipe emissions alone misses a portion of the well-to-wheels lifecycle analysis required for fair comparisons. In the case of renewable natural gas, where the “well” is a pile of rotting waste rather than an oil well, emissions measurements result in a negative number.
Regulatory initiatives of today may also be updated by new information later.
For example, as noted by Irina Tsukerman, president of strategic business analysis company Scarab Rising and programs vice chair of the American Bar Association’s oil and gas committee, some laws related to natural gas regulation were based on 2014 research. More favorable recent studies could protect the natural gas industry from liability or regulatory action. This includes, according to Tsukerman, indications methane causes less climate change than expected.
It may be fair to call public employees like me “technocrats” for the way we manage environmental regulatory compliance. However, realistic options for regulations fall far short of authoritarian confiscations, and new data informs changes in policy options.
David Goldstein, an environmental resource analyst with the Ventura County Public Works Agency, can be reached at 805-658-4312 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Ventura County Star: Eco-tip: From stoves to trash trucks: Regulations, not confiscations