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Environmental Activists Ask Restaurant Group to Drop Berkeley Lawsuit

— January 24, 2020

The groups, which include the Sierra Club, say that natural gas stoves can damage the environment and human health.

A group of environmental activists are asking the California Restaurant Association to drop its lawsuit against the city of Berkeley, which recently banned natural gas in new buildings.

KQED reports that activist organizations—including the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council—have publicly released the letter they sent to the CRA on Tuesday. In it, they condemn the association’s apparent alliance with wide-ranging corporate interests.

“By carrying out this lawsuit, CRA is positioning themselves in alliance with oil and gas industry executives, and not on the side of the majority of Californians who support solutions to the climate crisis,” the letter said.

The restaurant association, though, shows no signs of closing its case.

According to KQED, the CRA filed its lawsuit in November. In its complaint, the lobbyists claim that Berkeley’s ordinance—which requires new buildings to have all-electric appliances and temperature controls—is unlawful and will harm the city’s restaurant industry. The case is largely built atop the argument that restaurants need natural gas, both to prepare food and heat dining halls.

The CRA says cooking on electric stoves would make it substantially more difficult to do routine kitchen tasks, like charring and stir-frying vegetables. Image via Pixkrepo. (CCA-BY-0.0).

To add on to that, the restaurant association says it’s simply not practical to cook with electric equipment. Restaurants without open-flame stoves would struggle to perform tasks as routine as searing steaks or charring and stir-frying vegetables.

“An overwhelming majority of chefs and cooks are trained using natural gas stoves, with pots and pans over a flame produced by natural gas,” said Robert Phillips, chairman of the Chef De Cuisine Association of California. “This ban will slow down the process of cooking and reduce a chef’s control over the amount and intensity of heat which is needed to prepare food appropriately. It’s like taking paint away from a painter and asking them to create a masterpiece.”

Furthermore, the CRA questioned the reliability of all-electric power supplies in a state increasingly beset by unpredictably and irregular electrical outages.

But the Sierra Club insists that alternative power is the way of the future, noting that at least 20 other cities are planning to follow Berkeley’s lead.

“There may a time in decades to come when gas as a fuel source is phased out altogether,” said Sierra Club senior campaign representative Matt Gough. “We’d love to work with the CRA to develop opportunities to make this transition easier on restaurants. Indeed, we urgently need to build dialogue with these important stakeholders, but we cannot do that in the face of aggressive litigation seeking to stall climate action.”

The Sierra Club, says Restaurant Business Online, believes that electric cooking equipment is less-worse for the environment than fume-emitting, gas-fired stoves and ovens. In their letter, the Sierra Club and its allies also claim that natural gas fumes are a health hazard for residential homes and businesses alike.

“California is in the middle of a climate crisis,” Gough said. “We know that without aggressive policy to move off of dirty and dangerous fossil fuels, natural disasters and strains on our resources are going to get worse.”


Environmentalists to California Restaurants: Drop Lawsuit Over Berkeley Gas Ban


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