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Opinion: Missouri can protect people and the planet by repowering buildings with electricity

Missouri can reduce emissions equal to taking 1.5 million cars off the road by banning fossil fuels in buildings

With the turmoil of the past year hopefully in the rearview mirror soon, it’s time to decide how we will define the rest of this decade. A great place to start is by getting rid of fossil fuels in our buildings which can play a big role in moving us closer to a world that runs clean, affordable electricity powered by renewable energy sources.

According to a new report, Electric Buildings 2021: Repowering Homes and Businesses for our Health and Environment, from Environment Missouri and Mo PIRG, electrifying a majority of our homes and businesses by 2050 could reduce net emissions by an amount equivalent to taking about 65 million cars off the road. That’s equal to getting rid of almost one-fourth of the total number of cars in the U.S. in 2019.

In 2020, St. Louis became the fourth jurisdiction in the U.S. to establish a building performance standard that mandates reductions in energy use of large municipal, commercial, institutional, and multifamily residential buildings. Many will have to switch to electric alternatives to meet the requirements.

This report comes on the heels of the Kansas City metropolitan area releasing its Climate Action Plan, with an overall goal of reaching net zero emissions by 2050. The plan lays out solutions with regards to building codes, where electrification of buildings and homes will assist in the city’s 100 percent renewable energy targets.

Committing to this type of change is essential because burning fossil fuels in our homes and businesses is a hazard for the planet and puts our own health and safety at risk. It pollutes the air we breathe outside as well as inside. For example, every time we turn on a gas-powered stove, it decreases the air quality in our buildings. In fact, gas stoves alone may be exposing tens of millions of Americans to levels of indoor air pollution that would be illegal outdoors. This kind of air pollution is linked to health problems including respiratory illness, heart attack, stroke, and cancer.

What’s particularly disheartening is that, despite threats to our health and environment, fossil fuel combustion in U.S. homes and businesses accounted for almost 9 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2018, and three out of four American homes still directly burn fossil fuels for heating, hot water, or to run appliances.

Despite our ambitious climate goals and the benefits of electrification, Kansas and Missouri communities may be on the verge of losing their freedom to transition off fossil fuels. In Missouri, HB 488 and SB 141 would restrict local governments’ ability to limit gas use in buildings and prevent them from going all-electric — preempting that power entirely to the state government. This legislation is part of a larger strategy by special interest groups, including gas companies, that have backed at least 19 similar bills across the country over the past two years.

Thankfully we are ramping up our use of renewables across the country with one in three Americans living in a community dedicated to 100 percent renewable energy. And with advances in electric technologies like heat pumps, water heaters, and induction stoves, it is easier and more affordable to make your own personal commitment to this change.

This is all essential progress, but even more needs to be done. Our decision-makers should push forward education and financial programs like rebates and tax incentives, so that we can get professionals up to speed on electrification, incentivize contractors and builders to go all-electric, and make it even easier for homeowners to take advantage of clean technologies.

We now have all the tools we need to make our buildings fossil fuel-free, which will be a key step in eliminating pollution and helping us avoid the worst impacts of climate change. By committing to electrifying our homes and businesses, we can ease the transition to 100 percent renewable energy for a cleaner and greener future.

Environment Missouri works for clean air, clean water, clean energy, wildlife, and open spaces, and a livable climate. Our members across the state put grassroots support behind our research and advocacy. Environment Missouri is part of Environment America, a national network of 29 state environmental groups.