Gas stoves are coming under fresh scrutiny as a second federal agency has now stepped into the political firestorm with a proposal for new regulations on the appliances.
A proposal by the Energy Department published Wednesday would set first-of-a-kind limits on energy consumption by the stoves, drawing fear from the industry that the regulation could effectively end the use of some products. The proposal also sets energy use standards for electric stoves and new standards for gas and electric ovens.
The move comes just weeks after an official with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission floated the idea of a gas stove ban, igniting criticism from the gas industry and from lawmakers ranging from House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers to Sen. Joe Manchin. Within days, the head of the commission clarified that the agency had no plans for such a ban, and the White House issued a statement noting the president also didn't support banning the appliances.
"We are concerned that this is another attempt by the Federal government to use regulations to remove viable and efficient natural gas products from the market," Karen Harbert, president of the American Gas Association, said of the Energy Department's proposal, adding that the group will "carefully evaluate this rule in the coming weeks."
While Alexander Hoehn-Saric, chair of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, said the agency was "not looking to ban gas stoves" -- the commission is moving forward with a request for information, the first step in a potential ruling.
Natural gas stoves are used in about 40% of homes in the United States. The appliances emit air pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and fine particulate matter at levels the Environmental Protection Agency and World Health Organization have said are unsafe. The pollutants are linked to respiratory illness, cardiovascular problems, cancer and other health conditions, multiple studies have shown.
The Energy Department's proposal would require a 30% reduction in energy use by the stoves, relative to the least-efficient products currently on the market, according to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, an environmental group.
The proposed standards are based on improved cooking efficiency through the use of design options, such as an optimized burner and improved grates, and some products are already on the market that meet the requirements, the group said.
Andrew deLaski, executive director of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project, said the proposed regulation represents a standard that "today's more efficient gas stove designs can meet."
But groups representing the makers of ranges from companies such as Whirlpool Corp. said they were alarmed by the proposal, which follows previous decisions by the Energy Department not to issue standards.
"This approach by DOE could effectively ban gas appliances," said Jill Notini, a vice president with the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, a Washington-based trade group. "We are concerned this approach could eliminate fully featured gas products."