Restaurant group sues California city over ban on new natural gas connections

(Reuters) - California’s restaurant industry sued the city of Berkeley on Thursday, arguing in court papers that its ban on natural gas in buildings will harm eateries by increasing costs and preventing them from preparing many sought-after ethnic delicacies.

The suit comes four months after Berkeley became the first U.S. city to ban natural gas hookups in new buildings. Since then, more than a dozen California cities have voted to move toward electrifying their building sectors. This week, Brookline, Massachusetts became the first city outside of California to pass a ban on natural gas in buildings.

Local officials in those cities cite mounting evidence that unburned gas leaking from pipes and compressor stations harms the climate. They want buildings switched to electric power from a grid that is increasingly powered by renewable energy.

Several large industries, however, have raised concerns about the cost and burden of a broad move toward electrifying building appliances like stoves and hot water heaters. They include homebuilders, natural gas utilities and restaurants.

In documents filed in federal court in San Francisco, the California Restaurant Association said Berkeley, a city in Northern California with 120,000 residents, did not follow state and federal regulations in implementing more stringent energy standards.

Berkeley’s chief attorney said the city would vigorously defend its new ordinance.

“We are confident that the city’s limitations on natural gas infrastructure in new buildings comply with all relevant laws,” City Attorney Farimah Faiz Brown said in an emailed statement.

The trade group argued that its members would be harmed by the natural gas ban because it would increase costs and slow down the cooking process for chefs trained to cook with gas.

“Many restaurants will be faced with the inability to make many of their products which require the use of specialized gas appliances to prepare, including for example flame-seared meats, charred vegetables, or the use of intense heat from a flame under a wok,” the lawsuit said. “Indeed, restaurants specializing in ethnic foods so prized in the Bay Area will be unable to prepare many of their specialties without natural gas.”

Residential and commercial buildings account for about 12% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Reporting by Nichola Groom; Editing by Cynthia Osterman