Don’t pass on gas

While Los Angeles may be gassing the pedal acting on climate initiatives, its misguided strategy is guaranteed to eat up more than just its supply of Korean BBQ restaurants.

Beginning Jan. 1 next year, residents of the city of Los Angeles must say goodbye to natural gas and wave hello to a higher electricity bill, following pledges by California Gov. Gavin Newsom to achieve carbon neutrality by 2045. This ordinance by the LA City Council will require buildings to be decarbonized and electrified, forcing residents to eventually switch their natural gas appliances to electric alternatives.

That is not to say that the overall purpose of this movement is at fault. Reducing natural gas use is one of the first steps toward slowing climate change as natural gas emissions are a major atmospheric contaminant. 

However, taking away natural gas powered appliances will only serve to weaken Los Angeles’s most vulnerable residents and industries. 

Already, due to inflation and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, many low-income families in Los Angeles have been struggling to pay for food and rent. At only $15 an hourwhich comes out to about $2520 a month for those working a full time job clocking out at 40 hours per weekminimum-wage salaries in California are barely enough to cover the average rental cost of a one-bedroom apartment in the LA city center—not counting expenses that rack up from food or transportation, much less utilities.

By increasing the cost of living without a clear and definite plan for financial incentive or assistance, the LA city council increases the risk of pushing economically disadvantaged families out of their homes and onto the streets, adding onto another of the city’s long-standing problems.

Furthermore, only recently have local restaurants begun to recover from the debilitating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Asking them to phase out on natural gas as they begin to get back on their feet would not only affect their profit but also their cuisine.

As a city with one of the largest Asian populations in America, restaurants in LA would be most greatly impacted by the loss of natural gas appliances since many signatures of Asian cooking employ a fiery char.

 For instance, the metal grills used in Korean BBQ are heated using natural gas—in fact, the art of barbecuing has always required live fire and smoke—and in specific dishes in Chinese cuisine like stir fry, the ‘wok-hei’ element of taste comes through specific use of an open flame and sizzling oils.

To compel these chefs to abandon gas fires without providing viable alternatives would be asking nothing less than bringing back clay ovens and chopped wood used in medieval eras just to maintain their culinary heritage. 

So how, then, should the LA City Council, and other parts of the state, move to deal with this dilemma? The obvious choice is to continue with decarbonization measures, except this time, to place greater emphasis on those who can actually afford it. 

The truth is that while small commercial consumers and residential consumers of natural gas, called “core consumers,” do contribute their fair share of emissions, it is actually the much smaller population of electric generators and industrial customers that create the most haze. According to the California Public Utilities Commission, these “noncore” consumers use up 65% of natural gas provided by state gas utilities, as opposed to the “core” consumption of only 35%.

It only makes sense that those who exhaust the greatest amount of pollutive fuel be held responsible to pay for their fair share. Natural gas has long served as the cheaper alternative to electricity. And by banning it during a time when America’s economy is already embroiled in an inflation crisis, those at risk would only be pushed further toward the edge. 

Instead, these motions aiming for decarbonization and carbon neutrality should look to the largest users of gas and producers of emissions to shoulder the major burdens of such change.