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Localities and natural gas: lawmakers weigh how much power city councils should have

FILE - In this Jan. 11, 2006 file photo, a gas-lit flame burns on a natural gas stove in Stuttgart, Germany. A California restaurant organization is suing Berkeley over the city's ban on natural gas, which is set to take effect in January, 2020. The California Restaurant Association said in its lawsuit filed Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019, that many chefs use natural gas stoves and the prohibition will crimp the San Francisco Bay Area's reputation for international and fine cuisine. (AP Photo/Thomas Kienzle, File)
Thomas Kienzle/AP
FILE - In this Jan. 11, 2006 file photo, a gas-lit flame burns (AP Photo/Thomas Kienzle, File)

Lawmakers are debating how much power your local government has to prohibit fossil fuels.

House Republicans are concerned that city councils in Richmond or Charlottesville might prohibit developers from connecting to natural gas. House Republican Leader Terry Kilgore wants to make sure local governments do not have the authority to say no to natural gas.

"And we just want to make sure that all our residential customers and manufacturers, especially manufacturers, have the ability to fire their equipment or whatever by natural gas because it's cheaper," he explains. "And we're always looking to make sure that we're competitive and I think natural gas makes us competitive."

Not so fast says Senator Chap Petersen, a Democrat from Fairfax City. He once served on the City Council for Fairfax City, and says this is a decision for local governments, not the General Assembly.

"Cities own their own streets in Virginia," Petersen says. "So if you're going to lay down a natural gas utility or electric or anything you've got to go through the local right-of-way. That's why it's their interest."

Kilgore and Petersen will be working out their differences on the legislation in a secret, closed-door conference committee.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.