Climate Corner

Local fossil fuel bans: fantasy or foreshadowing the future?

Climate Corner

August 2021

By: Paige Anderson

While much media attention has been on efforts by the federal government and international community to address climate change, climate activists are pushing their environmental agenda at the local level. City halls and local zoning boards across the country have been looking at changes to local ordinances and regulations to lower carbon emissions. Switching over local government fleets, such as buses, police cars, fire trucks and other vehicles, to alternative fuels, like electric vehicles, along with implementing more stringent energy efficiency standards at public buildings and installing solar panels at large publicly owned parking lots or garages, are just a few of the initiatives that city councils and county supervisors have been debating.

Climate activists have been pressing city councils for fossil fuel bans across the country. According to a report released in early 2021 comparing various climate-related initiatives, the United States had the most cities in the world that had enacted some sort of ban on fossil fuels at the local level by the end of 2020. California led the nation with over 35 cities enacting limits on fossil fuels. And in 2021, more cities are considering or have passed similar bans.

These local fossil fuel bans have focused on two sectors—building and transportation. With respect to the building sector, cities have restricted fossil fuel use in new construction, such as bans on natural gas hookups for new homes. Berkley, California, was the first city in the world to implement a ban on new natural gas hookups in 2019. New York City announced at the beginning of 2021 that it would ban all new natural gas hookups by 2020. Brookline, Massachusetts, followed Berkley’s lead, but state law initially preempted the local law until a workaround was finished. While some states are embracing these local measures, others are trying to stop this proliferation of patchwork fossil fuel bans by preempting local initiatives.

In addition to the building sector, environmentalists have taken aim at the transportation sector. Earlier this year, Petaluma, California, became the first city in the United States to ban both new construction of gas stations and the addition of more gasoline pumps at existing stations. Beyond these bans, climate groups are pressing local zoning commissions to block new applications for new gas stations or expansion of existing ones. In Sonoma County, California, three applications have been blocked in the past year. These local successes have emboldened groups like SAFE Cities (Stand Against Fossil Fuel Expansion) and CONGAS (Coalition Opposing New Gas Stations) to build support for these bans in other cities like Seattle, Portland and other regions around the country.

These local fossil fuel bans, combined with state zero-emissions mandates and bans on the sale of new gasoline-powered cars, trucks and SUVs, plus numerous state and federal incentives to transition to new, cleaner alternative fuel vehicles, such as electric vehicles, are all attempts to accelerate carbon emissions reductions. Every success inspires other local grassroots efforts.

For convenience and fuel retailers, what may seem like a small, innocuous proposal can lead to bigger policy implications that no longer seem so modest. Now more than ever, it is imperative that retailers engage with their representatives—whether it be at the federal, state or local level. NACS can help you navigate the political process and provide resources to build these relationships at the federal level and help connect you to state associations representing the industry at the state and local level. As the old saying goes, keep your seat at the table or you may end up on the menu.

With the convenience and fuel retailing industry selling over 80% of the motor fuels in the United States, ESG (Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance) requirements will have an impact on retailers. Whether it be publicly traded convenience retailers having to disclose ESG-related information or privately held retailers seeking investors, insurance coverage or loans, depending on what information is required and what information is used to make a financial decision, ESG policy will have an impact on the industry.

Paige Anderson

Paige Anderson

Paige Anderson is NACS director of government relations. She can be reached at