Blair Miller

(Daily Montanan) Republican lawmakers in Montana want to preemptively stop any local governments from banning various energy sources amid a national conversation about gas stove bans, even though no local governments are considering such a prohibition, the sponsor said Tuesday.

More than a dozen proponents spoke in favor of Senate Bill 208, sponsored by Sen. Jason Small, R-Busby, including representatives from energy companies, restaurants, the building industry and unions, who said such bans would hurt their respective business sectors.

“Basically, just energy freedom,” Small told the Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee to summarize his bill.

Opponents said the measure was another attempt by the state to take local control away from city and county governments, which they said should have the freedom to make their own decisions, much as states have those rights in the nation’s federalist system.

“You need to allow local governments to make decisions for what they believe is best for their communities,” said Ross Butcher, a commissioner from Fergus County, the lone county in Montana with self-governing powers, according to Butcher and Eric Bryson, with the Montana Association of Counties (MACO).

Small’s bill would deny all local governments, including Fergus County, the ability to make any ordinances, resolutions or policies that either impede or prohibit the use of electric, natural gas, propane or other energy sources provided by any utility or energy provider.

It would also bar the state from putting a prohibition or limitation on any energy source into the state building code.

Bryson, testifying in opposition on behalf of MACO, said he and the organization were fine with the section on the state building code but against the rest.

“Leave local decisions for local elected officials,” Bryson said.

In early January, a commissioner on the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission caused uproar in some circles when he said the agency would consider banning gas stoves to cut down on indoor air pollution. The commission’s chairman clarified two days later that was not under consideration.

Congressman Ryan Zinke, R-Montana, was among the politicians who voiced outrage over a potential ban. He tweeted a graphic of a pot on a gas stove overlaid with the words “from my cold, dead hands” the day after the commission chairman said there would be no ban.

Berkeley, California, was the first local government in the country to ban natural gas hookups in new developments in 2019, saying it was a way to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions and harmful indoor pollutants. Other largely Democrat-controlled cities followed suit with similar prohibitions, including San Francisco and New York City. Denver had considered a ban in December but tabled the discussion for the time being.

At least 20 mostly Republican-controlled states, including Wyoming, Utah and Arizona, have adopted preemption laws in response to the efforts.

Nationwide in 2020, commercial and residential emissions made up about 13% of greenhouse gas emissions, about 80% of which came from natural gas consumption, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

In Montana, residential and commercial emissions made up 8.8% of greenhouse gas emissions in 2020, according to the EPA. The state’s largest greenhouse gas producer is the agricultural industry, which emits about 35.1% of greenhouse gases, per the EPA data.

Ian Lund, testifying in opposition on behalf of the Montana Environmental Information Center, said the emissions pose health and safety risks inside homes and businesses. He said gas stoves alone put significantly larger amounts of toxic gases into homes than electric stoves.

The American Public Health Association said in a November report gas stove emissions can cause risks of illness in vulnerable populations.

Proponents argued that preserving energy options would be the best foot forward in a state that sees a wide range of energy sources used in heating homes and businesses, as well as in cooking.

Shelby Demars, speaking as a proponent on behalf of the Montana Association of Oil, Gas and Coal Counties, said while the organization was not necessarily a fan of local government preemptive bans, it was making an exception on this measure. Union members representing mining and energy workers said any bans would threaten union jobs.

Bryson told the committee he didn’t believe there were any MACO members who were even considering such a ban. He said continuing to add preemptive bans at the state level “further erodes the importance of local government.”

And during questions, Small confirmed to Sen. Christopher Pope, D-Bozeman, there were not any local governments even considering such a ban currently.

“This is pretty preemptive at this moment in time,” Small said.