60+ climate and health groups call for Governor Newsom to back a statewide zero-emission building code


November 2, 2023

Contact: Chloe Zilliac, chloe@sunstonestragtegies.org

60+ climate and health groups call for Governor Newsom to back a statewide zero-emission building code

Climate progress on homes and buildings has lagged behind other sectors; emissions could pose significant barrier to meeting the state’s 2030 targets

Sacramento, CA - More than 60 climate, health, and environmental groups sent a letter to California Governor Gavin Newsom asking him to direct state agencies to adopt a zero-emission building code through CalGreen. Equipping new homes with electric equipment cuts planet-warming emissions, reduces exposure to dangerous air pollutants, and improves households’ resilience in the face of extreme weather. 

“We can build cheaper, smarter, and healthier with heat pumps. Ensuring that new homes are built to run on clean energy is low-hanging fruit when it comes to cutting climate pollution. State policy should ensure that new construction is aligned with this important opportunity,” said Jonny Kocher, Manager at RMI. 

Pollution from homes and buildings is one of the state’s most overlooked climate problems. While emissions from sources like the power sector and transportation have plunged in recent years, pollution from homes ticked down just 3% in the past two decades, and emissions from commercial buildings have increased dramatically. 

That’s a worrying trend for California which needs to move much faster to cut climate emissions to meet its 2030 climate targets. Preliminary emissions data from 2022 shows that California’s emissions rose in 2022 compared to the previous year. To meet the state’s 2030 climate target, pollution needs to fall 33% in just seven years. According to RMI analysis, waiting until the next building code cycle to move forward with a zero-emission standard would lock in 1.5 million tons of additional carbon pollution by 2030. 

“California, the birthplace of the movement for green building codes, is falling behind other states when it comes to climate-friendly new construction. New York state already passed legislation enacting a statewide zero-emission code. If Gov. Newsom wants to regain California’s mantle of climate leadership, he needs to throw his support behind a statewide zero-emission code,” said Brandon Dawson, director of Sierra Club California.  

In their letter, advocates outline the key health benefits that will accompany ensuring new homes are equipped with electric heating equipment. Burning gas in homes is responsible for two-thirds as much smog-forming nitrogen oxide pollution as passenger cars. An E3 analysis prepared for the California Public Utilities Commission found that removing gas equipment from both residential and commercial homes could prevent 813 premature deaths and yield $7.35 billion in monetized health savings annually due to the reduced outdoor air pollution.

The indoor air quality impacts from burning gas in homes are just as concerning. A study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health earlier this year found that California could theoretically avoid 20.1% of childhood asthma cases if gas stoves were not present in homes.

“Governor Newsom should ensure that the next generation of children in California don’t grow up breathing dangerous air in their homes. Knowing how burning gas damages our lungs, why would we ever subject ourselves to toxic pollutants when we have healthier options with electrification,” said Dr. Robert M. Gould, president of SF Bay Physicians for Social Responsibility.

The advocacy push in favor of a statewide zero-emissions code comes on the heels of a disruptive few months for local leadership on green buildings. Earlier this year, the Ninth Circuit court overturned Berkeley, California’s first-in-nation green building code, creating uncertainty for the more than 70 local governments across the state with similar codes on the books. 

Local governments have been some of the loudest voices calling for a unified state-wide code. More than twenty local elected leaders submitted a letter in support earlier this year calling for a statewide code, which will help local governments avoid spending unnecessary time adopting new local standards in the wake of the Ninth Circuit decision.

"Cities throughout California have done the hard work of passing local codes to support our state's progress on housing and climate. We've seen the construction of hundreds of new zero-emission buildings in our community. These buildings are cost effective, align with state goals, and improve the health and safety of the places where we live, work, and play,” said Chris Read, Sustainability Manager at the City of San Luis Obispo. 

In addition to cutting climate and air pollution, setting a statewide zero-emission code will also ensure that households are more resilient in the face of the climate impacts we are already seeing today. Highly-efficient electric heat pumps provide some of the most efficient cooling on the market, along with air filtration benefits. Roughly one in five California homes lack primary air conditioning.