Richmond City Council votes to eliminate climate pollution from new buildings, charges ahead on clean energy

November 4, 2021

On Tuesday, Nov. 2, the Richmond City Council voted to approve an ordinance that will completely eliminate natural gas hookups in newly constructed buildings.

RICHMOND, CA — On Tuesday, Nov. 2, the Richmond City Council voted to approve an ordinance that will completely eliminate natural gas hookups in newly constructed buildings. The council’s new policy will help protect homeowners, renters, business owners, and workers from indoor air pollution, improve safety, and take a powerful action to address the emissions sources that are contributing to the climate crisis. With the vote, Richmond became the first refinery community in the U.S. to completely ban natural gas hookups in new developments. 

Councilmember Eduardo Martinez sponsored the ordinance and helped garner support for it on the council. Environmental and community groups including Stand.earth’s SAFE Cities movement, Communities for a Better Environment, Richmond Progressive Alliance, Climate Emergency Mobilization Task Force, Sunflower Alliance, and Sierra Club California helped galvanize public support for the policy.

“This is a huge step forward in the effort to protect Richmond residents and workers from dangerous sources of fossil fuels in our homes and businesses,” Councilmember Eduardo Martinez said. “I am proud to lead this effort and feel inspired by the broad coalition of community members that has stepped up to support this action. The council listened to your voices; you helped shape our policy. However, our work is not finished. We need more of these bold actions to achieve a just transition away from fossil fuels that protects our climate, our environment, our health, our workers, and our community.”

Tuesday’s hearing also demonstrated the dire need to phase out fossil fuels in Richmond due to the public health hazard they pose. The City Council heard a report detailing flaring events at the Chevron Richmond refinery in the past week that discharged smoke, fire, and gases because of the loss of steam production due to an operating problem. This resulted in approximately 17 tons of sulfur dioxide being discharged over two days. The event has prompted outcries and renewed calls to close the refinery from community members.

“If we want to achieve our shared vision of a liveable, strong, and vibrant city that takes care of all of its residents and provides for their health and well-being, then we must get rid of fossil fuel pollution,” said Katt Ramos, a Richmond resident and member of the Richmond Our Power Coalition. “The Richmond City Council’s new policy helps accomplish this vision by safeguarding buildings that we will live and work in for decades to come. This is one step in a bigger journey. We will only be able to fully protect our residents from these hazards when we can fully rid our community of industrial polluters.”

The Richmond City Council took action as President Biden has been forced to abandon a key tenant of his climate agenda, which would have replaced coal- and gas-fired power plants with zero-carbon sources, because of opposition in Congress. In spite of continued federal inaction, numerous communities in the U.S. have stepped up their fight against fossil fuel expansion by adopting SAFE Cities-style policies. These policies accomplish what Congress and national leaders are failing to do: taking action to block the buildout of new fossil fuel infrastructure.

Like numerous communities throughout California, many of Richmond’s homes and businesses consume natural gas for heating, hot water, cooking, and other uses. The City Council’s new law only applies to newly constructed buildings, and will prohibit natural gas infrastructure from being built in those projects. This new law will stop the buildout of new fossil fuel infrastructure in Richmond, including in low-income communities that are suffering disproportionately greater impacts from fossil fuel pollution. The new law will help small business owners and tenants save money because all-electric buildings are cheaper to construct and cheaper to operate than buildings with fossil fuel hookups. These all-electric buildings are also safer. Studies have found that gas appliances like stoves can create harmful sources of indoor air pollution, which contributes to respiratory problems like asthma, especially among vulnerable populations like seniors and children.

Natural gas combustion accounted for almost 40 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions created in residences in Richmond, according to a 2012 greenhouse gas inventory. Across all energy-related emissions citywide, natural gas accounted for 72 percent. Eliminating these climate-polluting fossil fuels from buildings in Richmond is a vital step to the deep decarbonization efforts that are required to fully address the climate crisis. Building electrification policies are also an important first step toward achieving a broader vision of a fossil fuel-free future in Richmond and throughout the Bay Area. Local land use regulations are an important tool in achieving this vision, because community members and their elected officials get to decide what gets built in their communities, based on mandates to protect public health and safety.

Background on Richmond:
In 2020, the City of Richmond adopted a Reach Code ordinance that required many new developments to be all-electric and have some on-site solar power generation. The Reach Code permitted exceptions for new residential buildings’ cooking appliances and fireplaces, for non-residential buildings that contained a for-profit restaurant. They could install gas-fired cooking appliances. Scientific labs’ heating and cooling systems and public agency emergency operations centers were also exempt. The new law removes these exceptions — natural gas infrastructure is prohibited in newly constructed buildings.

More about SAFE Cities:
SAFE Cities is a growing movement of neighbors, local groups, and elected officials phasing out fossil fuels and fast-tracking clean energy solutions to ensure a just transition. Already dozens of cities and counties across the US – and several more around the globe – have passed concrete policies to keep their communities SAFE from fossil fuels, build renewable energy infrastructure, and create good, long-term jobs.

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Media contacts:

Councilmember Eduardo Martinez, eduardo_martinez@ci.richmond.ca.us, 510-620-6593 
Katt Ramos, Richmond Our Power Coalition katherineramos@ourpowerrichmond.org 
Peter Jensen, SAFE Cities Communications Coordinator, safemedia@stand.earth, 415-532-3817