Arizona on track to bar cities from imposing natural gas bans

(Reuters) - Arizona’s governor in the coming days is expected to sign into law a bill that would bar local governments from discouraging natural gas as an energy source in new buildings.

The move, backed by business and utility interests, comes as a growing number of cities in neighboring California have voted to move toward electrifying their building sectors and reduce reliance on natural gas, a fossil fuel that contributes to climate change.

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, a Republican, is expected to sign the bill, which says a city or town may not impose a fine or penalty that would restrict a utility’s ability to serve customers.

The bill was supported by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, gas utility Southwest Gas Holdings Inc as well as retail and restaurant trade groups. It passed the state’s legislature last week and was received by the governor’s office on Tuesday.

“We have received the bill. We will let you know of any action from the governor after he’s had the chance to be briefed on it,” Ducey spokesman Patrick Ptak said in an email.

In a letter to Ducey urging him to sign the bill, Arizona Chamber of Commerce President Glenn Hamer said “irresponsible local policies that limit or reduce energy options could undermine the state’s economic competitiveness.”

The legislation was opposed by some of the state’s biggest cities, including Phoenix and Tucson, as well as environmental groups like the League of Conservation Voters and Sierra Club.

In a statement, LCV’s Arizona affiliate, Chispa AZ, said the bill was “an undermining of local governments to make decisions about their own government’s needs and priorities and silences the voice of local communities.”

Last July, the Northern California city of Berkeley kicked off a wave of municipal efforts to electrify their building sectors by prohibiting natural gas in new buildings. Since then more than 20 other California cities have followed suit with similar ordinances.

Reporting by Nichola Groom in Los Angeles; Editing by Matthew Lewis