- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 26, 2023

Consumer Product Safety Commissioner Richard Trumka Jr.’s threat of a federal ban on gas stoves this month has channeled the goals of left-wing billionaire think tanks that are making significant progress in pushing communities to eliminate fossil fuels.

A web of environmental groups is stepping up the campaign to persuade states and local communities to switch to all-electric energy. The Rocky Mountain Institute, the Sierra Club and other green groups are working successfully to ban gas stoves and other gas appliances in communities throughout the U.S. as part of an aggressive move to implement a net-zero global economy by 2050.

Some observers say the effort gained momentum in July 2019 during a two-day meeting hosted by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund at the Rockefeller family mansion in Pocantico, New York. The strategy session paired dozens of high-ranking state officials with green energy groups, including the Rocky Mountain Institute, the Georgetown Climate Center and the Energy Foundation.

They devised ways to accelerate the elimination of natural gas and other fossil fuels and speed conversion in communities to renewable-based electricity.

Government officials invited to the event included Dale Bryk, then New York state’s deputy secretary for energy and environment; Nik Blosser, then chief of staff in the Oregon governor’s office; Janet Coit, who at the time was director of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management; Chris Davis, senior adviser to Washington Gov. Jay Inslee; and Kathleen Frangione, chief policy adviser to New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy.

The agenda included “net-zero buildings” and “carbon pricing strategies,” including a carbon tax.

The draft agenda said the meeting would give state leaders opportunities “to strategize together on the most promising ways to accelerate the pace of implementation in response to the increasingly ambitious climate goals being established by these states’ governors and state legislatures” and how state action “can influence and underpin future federal action and how U.S. federal action needs to be positioned within the global climate negotiations.”

Notes from the event written by Michael Northrop, director for the sustainable development grant program at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, said that “states need a roadmap for how to get off natural gas” and “buildings may be the best first target for moving beyond gas.”

Chris Horner, a Washington lawyer who represents Energy Policy Advocates and obtained records about the Rockefeller Brothers event, told The Washington Times, “The agenda we have seen unfolding at the local level is laid out in the notes” from the two-day meeting.

Meeting participants hail from states that have been moving aggressively to eliminate carbon emissions in buildings and transportation.

Katie Dykes, Connecticut commissioner for the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, was among the state officials at the Rockefeller event. Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, a Democrat, signed a bill in May setting a goal of establishing a zero-carbon electric grid in the state by 2040. In Oregon, Kate Brown signed legislation as governor in 2021 requiring the state’s two power companies to provide plans for reducing emissions by 80% in 2030 and 100% in 2040.

Some of the groups represented at the event have taken on outsized roles in helping governments devise green energy policies.

In New Jersey, Mr. Murphy hired the Rocky Mountain Institute to serve as a primary consultant on the state’s five-year energy master plan. The plan, released in 2020, provides a blueprint to “achieve 100% clean energy by 2050,” in part by electrifying all new and existing buildings, reducing energy consumption, and establishing offshore wind and community solar programs to replace natural gas and other fossil fuels.

The Rocky Mountain Institute published a study linking gas stoves to asthma a day before Mr. Trumka’s threat to ban gas stoves. The study did not include new research but relied on past studies that had been ridiculed, including one that tested the emissions from a gas stove in a room sealed off entirely with plastic tarps.

Skeptics question the liberal network’s aggressive efforts to force renewable-energy schemes on states and communities. The network is funded by some of the wealthiest Americans, some of whom are heavily invested in green energy technology.

Electrification is likely to be expensive to implement, will likely raise energy costs and will overburden electric grids, critics say.

“Eco-activist groups are the left’s best way to push unpopular climate and energy policies on the country, which is why they’re among the best-funded organizations in Washington politics,” said Hayden Ludwig, a senior investor at the Capital Research Center. “What’s frightening is that eco-activists are in the driver’s seat of Biden’s agenda, making climate extremism part of every federal agency’s priorities. That includes expanding the war on coal to a crusade against the natural gas heating our homes, fueling our stoves, and powering our electric grid. They’ve already gained victories in Massachusetts, New York and California, but won’t stop there.”

At the federal level, the Biden administration quickly walked back Mr. Trumka’s threat to ban gas stoves after public outcry, but the Consumer Product Safety Commission “is researching gas emissions in stoves and exploring new ways to address health risks,” CPSC Chair Alexander Hoehn-Saric said.

Spokeswoman Patty Davis said the agency has no record of a staff-involved meeting between the commission and the Rocky Mountain Institute about banning gas stoves. “But we cannot speak for any meetings held by individual commissioners,” she said. “We welcome the participation of any outside group in discussions about product hazards.”

The 30 employees at the Rocky Mountain Institute work in an eco-friendly building made of sandstone, zinc and untreated juniper wood that lacks central heating or air conditioning, according to Architect Magazine. Employees are equipped with experimental, battery-operated “hyperchairs” with built-in fans and heating elements.

The building’s walls and ceilings are constructed with a vegetable-based material that liquefies on hot afternoons to absorb heat and then solidifies at night. It releases the heat when outdoor temperatures drop, typically into the 20s during winter.

The building, which cost nearly $14 million to construct, is meant to demonstrate the feasibility of a carbon-neutral workplace. Critics say it underscores the unrealistic zealotry of the Rocky Mountain Institute’s push to end all fossil fuel use, which is embedded in New Jersey’s energy policy.

“Gov. Murphy pretty much outsourced the entire development of his energy master plan to the Rocky Mountain Institute,” said Mike Butler, the mid-Atlantic director of the Consumer Energy Alliance, which describes itself as an advocacy group for realistic and environmentally sustainable energy policies.

The Rocky Mountain Institute, Mr. Butler said, “should not be considered a very serious, solution-oriented group that should have that kind of sway.”

The five-year energy plan that the institute helped develop for New Jersey has faced significant backlash over projected costs to consumers and taxpayers and feasibility questions associated with the aggressive timeline to eliminate natural gas and other fossil fuels in the state.

Mr. Murphy abruptly canceled public hearings on the plan this week and instead called for a reevaluation “to better capture economic costs and benefits, as well as ratepayer impacts throughout our journey toward a clean-energy future.”

The Rocky Mountain Institute is funded by the nation’s wealthiest liberal donors through the Bloomberg Family Foundation, the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation, the Oak Foundation and others with the express goal of moving aggressively to end fossil fuel use, including natural gas, and converting the nation to renewable energy.

Officials at the institute did not respond to an interview request.

The green energy groups have helped speed up the implementation of net-zero emissions policies throughout the U.S., most recently in Montgomery County, Maryland. The Maryland chapter of the Sierra Club lobbied the County Council to unanimously pass a natural gas ban in new buildings by the end of 2026.

Sierra Club worked with a coalition of allies including nearly two dozen local and state, climate, and interfaith groups that strongly advocated for this legislation to pass …,” Sierra Club officials said in a celebratory statement. “We eagerly wait and urge for implementation of this bill to take effect sooner than later, at the earliest proposed dates.”

Sierra Club is funded by corporations, foundations and left-wing organizations. The list includes Bloomberg Philanthropies, the MacArthur Foundation and BlueGreen Alliance, as well as Craigslist Charitable Fund, REI and Whole Foods Market, according to the Capital Research Center, which tracks spending among influencers of public policy issues.

The groups say fossil fuels must be eliminated to save the planet.

The Sierra Club says the nation must transition away from “dirty fossil fuels” because of “the climate emergency, plastic pollution crisis and collapse of biodiversity” that threaten to damage the planet for future generations.

In New Jersey, the effort to ban natural gas comes from statistics on emissions.

Eric Miller, the New Jersey energy policy director for the National Resources Defense Council, which supports the 2050 net-zero emissions goal, said the state’s second-largest source of emissions comes from buildings powered by gas.

“So we are looking at how we lower emissions from that sector, how do we do it quickly, affordably and in a way that actually improves the lives of people who live in those buildings,” Mr. Miller said. “Based on most of the evidence that we’ve seen so far, electrification looks to be an extremely promising option for most of those situations.”

• Susan Ferrechio can be reached at sferrechio@washingtontimes.com.

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