Cities have emerged as leaders in responding to the climate crisis and initiating an equitable transition off of fossil fuels. As of April 2024, more than 400 cities in the U.S. have developed climate action plans that universally recognize the need for a substantial transformation of buildings. Some have undertaken ambitious building energy and emissions standards that regulate emissions from fuels burned on site and those produced during the generation of electricity. However, few if any of these, have considered the specific role of the pipelines that deliver methane gas to these buildings.

Those cities that have set their sights directly on natural (methane) gas have logically directed their efforts to avoid gas in new construction—the place where it is easiest and most cost-effective to decarbonize. Such efforts have faced significant challenges. Notably, Brookline, MA and Berkeley, CA have both faced setbacks in their ambitions to phase out new gas connections. Yet even in these defeats, these early-adopters have catalyzed other climate experiments, like a municipal all-electric pilot program in Massachusetts that allowed Brookline to implement its proposal five years later. 

Progress on decarbonizing the building sector has not been easy, especially as cities come up against entrenched gas interests that have enjoyed uninterrupted monopolies for decades. 

This white paper aims to deepen city leaders’ understanding of the interaction between gas distribution systems and local climate objectives. It specifically addresses critical components of the energy system, focusing not only on emissions, but also on the affordability, reliability, health, safety, and equity implications of the gas transition. City leaders can use this research as a guide to understand the key steps needed for an effective transition and how they can use their powers to help their communities move beyond gas. 

The paper is structured into two parts. ‘The Gas System and the Energy Transition’ examines the historic and present state of the gas system—its construction, funding, regulation, and emissions impact. ‘Strategy and Tools for Cities to Move Beyond Gas’ presents what is needed to ensure an effective transition beyond gas and examines case studies from a range of cities.

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