Legislature passes bill barring natural gas bans

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A bill banning Kansas cities and counties from restricting public access to natural gas has won the approval of the Kansas Legislature.

The Kansas House on Wednesday voted 93-29 to approve a bill aimed at undercutting a national trend toward banning natural gas hookups as local governments fight climate change and fossil fuel emissions.

The Senate voted 30-10 on Thursday to sign off on a House amedment to add propane to the legislation. The bill now goes to the governor.

“This bill simply protects our citizens from local mandates restricting and eliminating their energy choices,” state Rep. Tom Kessler of Wichita.

“This bill ensures Kansans can have acces to balanced energy solutions that are efficient, affordable and clean,” Kessler said.

Pushed by the state’s leading natural gas companies, the legislation was driven by fear that ordinances banning natural gas could take hold in Kansas, leading to a patchwork of local laws regulating energy.

Two years ago, Berkeley, California, became the first in the nation to ban the installation of natural gas lines in new buildings.

Now, there are believed to be 41 cities across California that have adopted similar bans, and there have been similar efforts in Washington, New York and Massachusetts.

Democratic state Rep. Annie Kuether of Topeka said the bill wasn’t necessary. Kuether said she didn’t believe a trend that started in Berkeley would catch fire in Kansas.

“This was sparked because of California making the decision that they were going to go green,” Kuether said.

“Just how green are we going in Kansas? We can’t get a task force to discuss anything about energy,” she said, alluding to a failed bill that called for establishing a panel to develop a statewide energy plan.

“We aren’t ever going to pass anything that California passes. We all pretty much well know that,” she said. “I don’t think we need this legislation.”

So far, Arizona, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Louisiana have all passed similar laws to what has been proposed in Kansas. Another four states have considered similar legislation.

No city in Kansas has banned natural gas, but there are concerns about a Lawrence city ordinance that calls for going to carbon-free energy sources by 2035.

The ordinance would apply to natural gas unless it’s produced by a carbon-free source.

Natural gas does not qualify as clean renewable energy because of its emissions and environmental impacts, city officials said.

That could change if natural gas utilities secure renewable sourcing like landfill methane, they said.

Democratic state Rep. Mike Amyx of Lawrence said he didn’t think Lawrence’s action discriminated against any energy source.

Amyx said he believed Lawrence’s ordinance only established renewable energy goals and is not affected by the bill.

“I don’t think that the ordinance from my hometown is challenged in this at all,” he said.

“I believe they went out and did something that did not discriminate against anyone,” he said.

Amyx added, “In a lot of cases, there will be community members and people in our state that will be extremely supportive of the city going ahead with the ordinance they put in place.

“One of things that happens when we don’t have a statewide energy plan,” he said, “there are going to be communities that take this on on their own.”