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Inslee goes full throttle against natural gas

By Don Jenkins

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday blasted home use of natural gas as a threat to the planet and children.

Hosting an online chat, Inslee said Washington residents must wean themselves off heating or cooking with natural gas for the sake of the climate and indoor-air quality.

"This is not debatable," he said. "It's just a scientific fact. We have to make the transition, or we're not going to have a livable Washington state."

Inslee's comments signaled a new frontier in his administration's efforts to curb the use of fossil fuels. Two years ago, he proposed banning natural gas to heat new homes by 2030, but said the ban wouldn't apply to cooking. "We know people enjoy that," he said at the time.

On Thursday, Inslee called natural gas a "dangerous product." The state has made progress regulating electricity, vehicle fuels and factory emissions and now needs an "intense" discussion about natural gas, he said.

"What we don't have is the ability to assure our children that this noxious product does not endanger their health," Inslee said.

"Today, I think, is the beginning of a discussion about the necessity of doing that and the health implications of us not making that transition."

Northwest Gas Association executive director Dan Kirschner said Inslee's comments were another example of his "war on energy choices."

"It's a fear tactic, plain and simple," Kirschner said. "This indoor air-quality thing is a red herring."

An Inslee spokesman said that the governor's comments do not apply to renewable natural gas, made from organic waste such as manure. Renewable natural gas mixes with conventional natural gas in pipelines and has the same uses.

Kirschner said an extensive network of natural gas pipelines allows renewable natural gas to be distributed.

"I think what a farmer wants is a market for gas. If they don't have a viable market, what they have is manure," he said.

Washington State Dairy Federation policy director Jay Gordon said the governor's comments were a concern, but not overly. "You're not going to have people ripping natural gas stoves out of their houses," he said.

Inslee's panelists included Dr. Mary Beth Bennett of the Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility. She likened the movement to ban natural gas in homes to banning lead paint, an analogy Inslee said he found interesting.

"A lot of the proponents of gas are saying, 'Oh, this is like mother's milk. It's just benign. It's clean. It's wonderful stuff,'" Inslee said. "And yet here you have it damaging children's health."

Natural gas stoves have been the subject of conflicting studies. For example, the California Restaurant Association funded a study by Catalyst Environmental Solutions that challenged a UCLA study commissioned by the Sierra Club.

This year, Stanford University researchers published a study asserting that gas stoves in some 40 million U.S. homes have a "climate impact comparable" to 500,000 cars.

The Stanford researchers tested the air in 32 homes and reported that cooks who don’t use range hoods or have poor ventilation, particularly in small kitchens, can surpass national exposure levels for nitrogen dioxide.

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