Republicans have chosen a ubiquitous kitchen appliance as their freshest source of fury in the culture war – the humble gas stove.
“I’ll NEVER give up my gas stove. If the maniacs in the White House come for my stove, they can pry it from my cold dead hands. COME AND TAKE IT!!” a possibly joking Ronny Jackson, the former presidential physician, now a GOP congressman from Texas, thundered on Twitter on Tuesday.
Conservative podcaster and columnist Matt Walsh sang an almost identical tune, employing similar language gun rights activists use about firearms: “You will have to pry my gas stove from my cold dead hands”.
The outrage kicked off after the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) announced that it’s considering taking action on gas stoves over fears they cause indoor pollution linked to asthma in children.
Agency commissioner Richard Trumka Jr told Bloomberg that gas stoves are a “hidden hazard”.
“Any option is on the table. Products that can’t be made safe can be banned,” he said.
After the controversy erupted, CSPC chair Alexander Hoehn-Saric took to Twitter to push back on the media reports on Wednesday.
“I want to set the record straight. Contrary to recent media reports, I am not looking to ban gas stoves and the @USCPSC has no proceeding to do so,” he tweeted.
“CPSC is researching gas emissions in stoves and exploring new ways to address health risks. CPSC also is actively engaged in strengthening voluntary safety standards for gas stoves,” he added in a statement. “And later this spring, we will be asking the public to provide us with information about gas stove emissions and potential solutions for reducing any associated risks. This is part of our product safety mission - learning about hazards and working to make products safer.”
The agency has been reviewing the possibility to take action on gas stoves for several months. Mr Trumka said in October that the CPSC should request public comments on the dangers of gas stoves as the pollutants have been connected to asthma and worse respiratory conditions.
Last month, the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health released a study saying that using a gas stove indoors is connected to a higher risk of childhood asthma, CNN reported.
According to the study, almost 13 per cent of current child asthma in the US is linked to the use of a gas stove.
Right-wing outrage prompts commission response
“Apparently they don’t even cook. Idiots,” she added.
The rage from the right prompted a response from Mr Trumka, who tweeted, “to be clear, CPSC isn’t coming for anyone’s gas stoves. Regulations apply to new products. For Americans who CHOOSE to switch from gas to electric, there is support available - Congress passed the Inflation Reduction Act which includes a $840 rebate”.
Mr Trumka told Bloomberg that measures could include “setting standards on emissions from the appliances”.
35 per cent of US households have gas stoves
In the US, 35 per cent of households have gas stoves, with that figure rising closer to 70 per cent in some states, such as California and New Jersey. Other states where many residents use gas stoves include Nevada, Illinois and New York.
In states such as North Carolina, Tennessee, and North Dakota, homeowners are mostly using electric stoves.
Studies have found that gas stoves produce nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, as well as fine particulate matter. These substances can, if a home isn’t properly ventilated, rise to levels considered unsafe by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
“Short-term exposure to NO2 is linked to worsening asthma in children, and long-term exposure has been determined to likely cause the development of asthma,” lawmakers said in a letter to Mr Hoehn-Saric. The legislators also wrote that it can worsen cardiovascular diseases.
New Jersey Democratic Senator Cory Booker and Massachusetts Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren were among those who signed the letter.
Lawmakers argue Black, Latino and lower-income households are more at risk
The lawmakers argued that Black, Latino and lower-income households are likelier to be affected by the negative reactions because they’re more likely to live close to a waste incinerator, a coal ash site, or to be living in a home that isn’t properly ventilated.
The CSPC told CNN that they haven’t yet taken steps to suggest regulation changes, which would “involve a lengthy process”.
But Republicans jumped on the opportunity to claim that Democrats were guilty of government overreach.
“Democrats are coming for your kitchen appliances. Their desire to control every aspect of your life knows no bounds – including how you make breakfast. They just can’t help themselves,” Arkansas GOP Senator Tom Cotton tweeted on 9 January.
The Oklahoma Libertarian Party tweeted an image of a stove with the caption “COME AND TAKE IT”.
Despite what the fears of Republicans and Libertarians may have them believe, the Biden administration isn’t planning on sending out government squads to take gas stoves hostage.
First lady blasted as hypocrite because of image shared in 2020
— Dr. Jill Biden (@DrBiden) September 2, 2020
A September 2020 image shared by first lady Jill Biden cooking on a gas stove made the rounds on Reddit and Twitter, with Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz tweeting, “rules for thee but not for me”.
Fox News also used the image of Dr Biden to argue that Democrats were being hypocrites.
Keep running running and running running pic.twitter.com/Glh196ZfgI
— Justin Baragona (@justinbaragona) January 11, 2023
AOC becomes target of rightwing barbs after prodding Jackson
One of the favourite targets of the right, progressive New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, responded to Dr Jackson’s “come and take it” tweet, writing: “Did you know that ongoing exposure to N02 from gas stoves is linked to reduced cognitive performance.”
The post prompted an avalanche of hateful messages against the congresswoman, with one right-wing online personality asking “what company is paying you to say that?”
Republican Virginia state legislator Nick Freitas suggested that the government wanted the public to use electric appliances to be able to assert control.
“Did you know that it’s a lot harder for the government to arbitrarily cut off your access to power if [you’re] using gas as opposed to electric?” he questioned. “Or is that really the point?”
Domestic extremists have plans ‘to attack electricity infrastructure’
While the government has no such plans to confiscate stoves, a Homeland Security Department report released last year states that domestic extremists “have developed credible, specific plans to attack electricity infrastructure since at least 2020”.
Democratic West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin took to Twitter to burnish his centrist credentials, writing that a gas stove ban was “a recipe for disaster. The federal government has no business telling American families how to cook their dinner. I can tell you the last thing that would ever leave my house is the gas stove that we cook on”.
According to the campaign finance watchdog OpenSecrets, Mr Manchin’s top donors hail from the oil and gas industry.
Gas stove brawl reaches White House briefing room
The issue reached as far as the White House briefing room on Wednesday, with press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre clarifying that President Joe Biden doesn’t support a ban on gas stoves.
“When it comes to the question about safety or the effect of gas stoves, that is not something that we can speak to here at the White House,” Ms Jean-Pierre said during a press briefing on Wednesday.
“The president does not support banning gas stoves and the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which is independent, is not banning gas stoves,” the press secretary added. “So I just want to be very clear on that on that.”
“As the chair said today and I quote ‘research indicates that emissions from gas stoves can be hazardous and the CPSC is looking for ways to reduce related indoor air quality hazards but to be clear, I am not looking to ban gas stoves and the CPSC has no proceedings to do so’,” she said earlier during the briefing.
“They were independently correcting the record on this for several days now. And so as far as I’m aware, we’re not in touch with them on this particular issue and I would refer you to their comment,” she said.
Natural gas becomes battleground of state-level climate policy
The issue of natural gas has become a hot topic over the last several years.
In order to reduce greenhouse emissions, some US cities have banned natural gas from being used in new buildings.
Berkeley did so in 2019, followed by San Francisco in 2020 and New York City in 2021.
As of February of last year, 20 states where the Republicans are in control of the state legislature have put in place what’s referred to as “preemption laws” which forbids cities from banning the use of natural gas.
Last year, Northern Illinois University School of Law Associate Professor Sarah Fox told CNN that “to me, that’s what’s interesting about this new trend, it seems like states are trying to eliminate the possibility before cities try to catch onto this”.
“The natural gas industry ... has been very aggressive in getting this passed,” she added.
The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers told CNN that the focus should be on improving ventilation.
A spokesperson for the industry, Jill Notini, told the outlet that “a ban on gas cooking appliances would remove an affordable and preferred technology used in more than 40 per cent of home[s] across the country”.
“A ban [on] gas cooking would fail to address the overall concern of indoor air quality while cooking, because all forms of cooking, regardless of heat source, generate air pollutants, especially at high temperatures,” she added.
The American Gas Association also blasted the idea of banning natural gas, writing in a blog post last month that it would make homes more costly because “electric homes require expensive retrofits”.