State lawmakers looking to stop Pennsylvania municipalities from banning natural gas use

Some major U.S. cities have enacted or have proposed laws to ban or curb the use of fossil fuels in new homes and buildings.

Updated: January 27, 2022 - 11:19pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

The Pennsylvania House has approved legislation to block municipalities from enacting ordinances that prohibit the use of natural gas as a utility.

House Bill 1947, sponsored by Rep. Tim O’Neal, R-Washington, would bar municipalities from blocking access to specific sources of energy. The bill is designed to preempt efforts to restrict the use of fossil fuels that have taken root in other states.

“Some major U.S. cities have enacted or have proposed laws to ban or curb the use of fossil fuels in new homes and buildings,” O’Neal said. “It is important that people have the opportunity to choose their energy source and that a wide variety of options are available. By enacting this law, Pennsylvania would join states such as Arizona, Texas, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Kansas and Louisiana in preserving choice.”

HB 1947, which passed the House on Wednesday on a 118-83 vote, states a municipality may not “adopt a policy that restricts or prohibits, or has the effect of restricting or prohibiting, the connection or reconnection of a utility service based upon the type of source of energy to be delivered to an individual consumer within the municipality.”

The bill prohibits discrimination against a utility service provider “based in whole or in part on the nature or source of the utility service.”

The legislation also clarifies it does not affect the authority of a municipality to “take steps designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from municipal facilities and operations, including purchasing renewable energy.”

HB 1947 defines “utility service” as “service from a utility service provider, which includes electric, manufactured gas, liquefied petroleum gas, natural gas, hydrogen, fuel oil, a renewable source or any other source, and which is capable of providing and authorized to provide the service for the property of an individual or entity.”

Democrats attempted to force a public hearing and to amend HB 1947 in the House Local Government Committee in October, and Republicans rejected both suggestions.

Rep. Robert Freeman, D-Northamption, argued municipalities in Pennsylvania “don’t have the authority” to prohibit specific types of energy sources for residents or businesses, and alleged HB 1947’s “vague and overly reaching” reference to discrimination could hamper local officials from implementing renewable energy initiatives, prompting lawsuits.

“I don’t think we want to put our local taxpayers in the crosshairs,” he said.

Freeman and Rep. Steven Malagari, D-Montgomery, both pointed to the lack of existing conflicts between municipalities and utilities as evidence the legislation is unnecessary.

“The bottom line is there’s really no need for this legislation,” Freeman said. “It just has not happened.”

“I do think there’s some unintended consequences that could occur,” Malagari said.

The bill now heads to the Senate, which approved the same legislation sponsored by Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Williamsport, in late October. Senate Bill 275 passed the Senate on a vote of 35-15 and is in the House Local Government Committee.