Groundbreaking Legislation Will Improve Building Safety and Reduce Carbon Emissions by Favoring Cleaner, All-Electric Buildings.
District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman introduced legislation today to significantly improve building safety and reduce the City’s carbon footprint by prohibiting the use of natural gas in newly constructed buildings. Natural gas is a combustible fossil-fuel super pollutant typically used in buildings for heating, cooling, and cooking. Favoring cleaner, all-electric buildings in new construction will increase building safety, reduce emissions citywide, and improve indoor air quality.
“This legislation will make San Francisco a healthier and safer city, and also represents a significant step toward reaching our climate goals,” said Supervisor Mandelman. “The science is clear that we must act boldly and quickly if we are to avoid the worst consequences of climate change over the coming decades. The ordinance I am introducing today will put San Francisco at the forefront of efforts to reduce, and ultimately eliminate, this dangerous and significant source of greenhouse gas emissions.”
The proposed ordinance is only the latest in a series of initiatives to reduce emissions from the City’s buildings, which generate over 42% of the City’s total greenhouse gases. In 2019, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, authored by Supervisor Mandelman, passed a resolution to declare a climate emergency in San Francisco. In 2020, under Supervisor Mandelman’s leadership, San Francisco adopted new building code legislation that favored electrification over natural gas. Additionally, the City enacted policy to eliminate natural gas in new construction for municipal buildings. The legislation is simple. Starting January 1, 2021, residential and commercial buildings must submit building applications that will design and build without any natural gas infrastructure. Exceptions may be granted for narrowly defined feasibility reasons. The ordinance does not impact existing buildings, additions, or alterations.
“We won’t be able to slow the rise of global temperatures and prevent climate change related disasters without aggressive targets and bold initiatives,” said Debbie Raphael, Director of the San Francisco Department of the Environment. “We worked with the Supervisor to improve building safety and resilience while simultaneously addressing our climate goals. San Franciscans know the importance of achieving a sustainable, emissions-free future, and I’m proud to work with a Mayor and Board of Supervisors that are paving the way there.”
At the Global Climate Action Summit in 2018, Mayor Breed committed to building all- electric buildings by 2030. Supervisor Mandelman’s legislation will deliver on that promise nearly nine years early. This initiative will also help achieve Mayor Breed’s Global Climate Action Summit commitment for net zero emissions by 2050. This is yet another step towards realizing these visions and the City’s ultimate plans for a zero emission, all-electric future.
To inform San Francisco’s climate change goals, last year, Mayor Breed also convened the Zero Emission Building Task Force, which determined that replacing fossil fuels in buildings with clean electricity is a necessary step to developing resilient housing, protecting health and safety, and eliminating climate pollution in line with the City’s ambitious goals. Supervisor Mandelman’s proposed legislation is designed to support these goals by addressing the health, safety, resilience, and equity concerns posed by natural gas infrastructure and its significant impacts on climate change.
Cleaner, all-electric buildings improve indoor air quality and health by eliminating natural gas combustion inside homes, and ultimately reduces respiratory illness, cardiovascular disease, and asthma in children. Natural gas consists mostly of methane, which itself is a greenhouse gas that is 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide. For low-income and communities of color that spend a disproportionate amount of their income on energy and who are more likely to suffer from asthma due to poor indoor air quality, zero emission homes are an important opportunity to deliver social equity benefits.
“You can’t have environmental justice without racial justice,” said Avni Jamdar, Director of Emerald Cities, a non-profit collaboration advocating for sustainable cities and social equity. “For decades, lower income neighborhoods, which are predominantly people of color, have been consistently exposed to poor air quality and higher risks of illnesses as a result. If passed, this law will prevent harmful pollutants in the home and air, ultimately increasing the quality of life for all San Franciscans. We have emphasized the importance of having workforce standards embedded in the policy and its outcomes.
Training for small, minority, women and disadvantaged contractors and workers to be upskilled to perform this work can be a crucial economic recovery strategy, especially as we emerge from the job losses incurred due to Covid-19. I applaud the City for promoting equity and data-driven policies.”
“Clean air and healthy lungs matter more than ever, and San Francisco is leading the way with an ordinance introduced today to commit to climate-friendly appliances in new homes and buildings,” said Matt Vespa, staff attorney at Earthjustice. “It’s time to leave the public health and safety risks of fossil gas appliances and gas lines in the past. The future of healthy homes is electric. Earthjustice’s Right To Zero campaign thanks Supervisor Rafael Mandelman for his leadership for a live-able future in San Francisco.”
Additionally, reducing the reliance on gas systems improves resilience by reducing the risk of fires and simplifying building systems and maintenance.
“Considering that buildings are major contributors to greenhouse gases, this new legislation will help in lowering emissions in newly constructed buildings throughout San Francisco,” said Patrick O’Riordan, Interim Director for the Department of Building Inspection. “As the regulatory building agency, we will work with our city partners and the building community to implement any new regulations that help the City meet its sustainability goals.”
Today’s legislation represents a partnership between Supervisor Mandelman’s Office, the San Francisco Department of the Environment, and the San Francisco Department of Building Inspections.
For an overview and policy brief of the introduced legislation, please click here.