As the country seeks ways to reduce fossil fuel emissions in order to meet ambitious carbon reduction targets, natural gas, a common household fuel staple beloved by cooks, is feeling the heat.

So far, 77 cities and towns, as well as the state of Washington, have prohibited or discouraged new natural gas hookups. Los Angeles became the latest city to join the list when the City Council voted last week to rewrite building codes to require zero-carbon emissions from new homes and buildings, effectively eliminating future natural gas lines.

According to climate change experts, the shift is a necessary part of the country’s energy transformation. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, natural gas is used in approximately half of all American homes, and appliances that use natural gas account for 13% of total U.S. greenhouse emissions. At least 95 percent of those emissions come from natural gas-powered water heaters, stoves, furnaces, and clothes dryers.

“One thing we must stop doing is burning fossil fuels. One place where we can do so is in our own homes “said Michael Wara, director of Stanford University’s Woods Institute for the Environment’s climate and energy policy program.

The transition, however, is not without controversy. As quickly as some communities reject natural gas, others cling to it. With utilities leading the way, 21 states have passed legislation depriving local governments of the authority to implement zero-emission building codes.

“Without natural gas, and in the absence of sufficient renewable energy to meet consumer needs,” Karen Harbert, president and CEO of the American Gas Association, said.

Customers will be inconvenienced, and the elimination of natural gas in homes and businesses “will not allow us to meet our shared environmental goals,” she said.

New homes, on the other hand, must be built with future infrastructure in mind, according to Wara.

Building codes encourage, incentivize, or require that new construction not be piped for natural gas, which means that the buildings’ furnaces, stoves, water heaters, and dryers will run on increasingly clean electricity.

Already, 40 percent of electricity in the United States is generated from carbon-neutral sources such as nuclear, wind, solar, and hydroelectric power. The total has been steadily increasing. Wind and solar combined accounted for 13% of US energy production last year, growing at the fastest rate ever.

What is built today will have a long-term impact on efforts to decarbonize the United States, according to Monica Embrey, energy team leader in California for the Sierra Club, which worked to pass Los Angeles’ ban.

Building a home with a gas hookup “bakes in” the energy source. “Once installed, these appliances can contribute to 50 years of fossil fuel consumption,” she explained.

The movement to keep natural gas hookups out of new construction began in 2019 and has gained traction in more liberal states, in preparation for what the US government has promised will be an all-electric, carbon-free future.

Berkeley, California, became the first city to enact such a ban in July 2019. All new single-family homes and small apartment buildings were required to have electric infrastructure under the ordinance. In July 2021, a federal judge dismissed the California Restaurant Association’s challenge to the ordinance.

Cities and counties in California, Colorado, Washington, D.C., Massachusetts, Maryland, Missouri, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah, Virginia, Vermont, and Washington now have all-electric building codes.

The natural gas industry and utilities have resisted the restrictions, claiming that natural gas has a role to play in the country’s transition to carbon-neutral energy.

Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming are among the states that have outright prohibited such building codes.

While people rarely make personal decisions about what fuel to use based on environmental concerns, Wara believes that cost may entice them to replace natural gas furnaces, stoves, dryers, and water heaters with electric.