There’s a new political firestorm lighting up Washington, and it has nothing to do with inflation or the new congressional leadership. Instead, all eyes are on gas stoves.
The common kitchen appliance was thrust into the spotlight this week after a Democratic member of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), an agency charged with protecting the public from dangerous household products, told Bloomberg News gas stoves could potentially be banned due to their health hazards. The conversation triggered a sharp rebuke from the oil and gas industry, but also many Republicans who used the issue to push back against what they say is Democrats’ overzealous environmental regulation.
The agency clarified on Wednesday that there is no plan to ban gas stoves in the near future and that it is only “researching gas emissions” and “exploring new ways to address any health risks.” But that didn’t stop conservatives from pushing a narrative—sometimes joking, sometimes not—that federal agents are going to come into your home and rip out your gas range.
Catching fire on right-wing social media
“I’ll NEVER give up my gas stove,” Rep. Ronny Jackson, a Texas Republican who served as the physician to former Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump, tweeted to his nearly 550,000 followers on Tuesday. “If the maniacs in the White House come for my stove, they can pry it from my cold dead hands. COME AND TAKE IT!!” He also encouraged supporters to sign a petition on WinRed, a fundraising platform endorsed by the Republican National Committee, to “stop Biden from banning our stoves.”
Read more: What the Potential Ban on Gas Stoves Means If You Have One
Photographs of First Lady Jill Biden and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a New York Democrat and popular villain of the right, using gas stoves quickly circulated across right-wing media channels, along with memes framing the issue as a distraction attempt by Democrats. “The Gas Stove Ban was to keep Biden’s Mishandling Classified Docs out of the news” wrote one image shared on a popular right-wing forum. Another post claimed that Democrats “will erode our freedoms from every possible angle.”
The controversy over gas stoves is just the latest subject in the nation’s ongoing culture war, a dynamic popularized in recent years in which cultural issues like family values and religion are taking over politics. In a four-word tweet on Thursday, Republican Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio summarized a few of those cultural issues, including a new addition: “God. Guns. Gas stoves.”
A history of conservative opposition
This isn’t the first time a culture war has targeted a common household appliance. Republicans have been venting their frustration over federal energy-efficiency standards for more than two decades—including over the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 that forced U.S. consumers to switch to more energy-efficient light bulbs.
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“Light bulbs, refrigerators, toilets, you name it. You can’t go around your house without being told what to buy,” libertarian-leaning Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky said during an appliance efficiency hearing in 2011. “You restrict my purchases. You don’t care about my choices. You don’t care about the consumer.” Former President Donald Trump also complained about federal energy-efficiency standards, including light bulbs that make you “look orange” and showers that lack a “full shower flow.”
But Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis pushed back against the notion that Republicans are the ones engaging in culture war over gas stoves. During a speech on Thursday, where he held up a “Don’t Tread on Florida” gas stove sign, the Republican told supporters that Democrats and the media are trying to stoke the issue.
“They want to do it, I mean, let’s be honest,” DeSantis said of the calls to ban gas-fueled stoves. “You start to see the narrative kick into gear, CNN segments saying how it’s causing asthma in kids. They start propagating the narrative.”
Around 92% of Florida households currently use electric cooking appliances, the most of any U.S. state, according to government data from the 2020 Residential Energy Consumption Survey.
The science behind the controversy
Scientists and public health experts say a growing body of research shows that the indoor air pollution from gas stoves is linked to respiratory and other health problems. A peer-reviewed study published last month suggested that more than 12% of current childhood asthma cases in the U.S. can be attributed to gas stove use. Brady Seals, a co-author of the study, told TIME that in-home gas cooking produces about the same level of risk for children to develop asthma as does exposure to secondhand smoke.
That’s because cooking with gas stoves releases nitrogen dioxide with other tiny airborne particles known as PM2.5—30 times smaller than the width of a human hair—both of which are lung irritants and have been linked with childhood asthma.
Natural gas stoves are currently used in about a third of households in the U.S., or about 40 million homes, mostly in coastal states. Any regulations would only affect new appliances and not existing ones.
Read more: The Best Stove for Your Health and the Environment
The federal government does not currently have any laws or guidelines in place that require gas stove emissions be vented outdoors, even though such laws do exist for gas furnaces, water heaters, and dryers. Seals says the CPSC could also decide to implement new rules for gas stove ventilation instead of outright banning the appliances.
However, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, on Tuesday called for the state to ban natural gas heating and appliances in new buildings. Some cities, including Los Angeles, Seattle and New York, have also moved to limit gas use in new homes and apartments.
But Republican state officials have fought back against such efforts in at least 21 states that have passed laws to prevent cities from prohibiting gas use in buildings. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, last week signed legislation to legally redefine natural gas as a source of “green energy.”
And on Thursday, a group of 44 House Republicans introduced federal legislation called the “Guard America’s Stoves” Act—or GAS Act for short—that would prohibit the CPSC from banning gas stoves. Two House Republicans also introduced the “Stop Trying to Obsessively Vilify Energy (STOVE) Act.”
The backlash highlights the difficult road ahead for Democrats’ climate agenda—particularly as the Biden Administration hopes to halve the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions by the end of the decade.
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