Rerun: Equitable Policy for Energy Efficient Homes with Dr. Steve Cliff

Image: A electric stove heats up. Making the switch from gas to electric stoves is an important part of increasing energy efficiency in homes. Image Credits: image by –

Audio Editing by: Wangyuxuan Xu | Blurb by: Amanda Neslund | Script by: Marie Hogan

California is the first state to ban the sale of new gas furnaces and water heaters, which will begin in 2030. In efforts to fight climate change, all homes will be required to use zero-emission electric appliance alternatives. The Sierra Club and American Lung Association have supported this move to reduce the building sector’s carbon footprint and improve public health. 

The building sector accounts for 5% of California’s nitrogen-oxide pollution, a key component in producing smog. The California Air and Resource Board (CARB) reports that nearly 90% of these nitrogen-oxide emissions come from space and water heaters. A report from SPUR, San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association, found “as appliances in California homes and buildings generate four times as much lung-damaging nitrogen oxide (NOx) pollution as the state’s gas power plants, and roughly two-thirds as much NOx as all of the state’s passenger cars.” This ban was passed to meet EPA regulations limiting atmospheric ozone and fighting air pollution, and it also follows Biden’s Climate Plan calling for the switch from residential gas to electric appliances.  

Natural Gas Inside the Home

Switching to electric appliances can also have indoor air pollution benefits. Gas cook stoves emit natural gas and indoor air pollutants that can be harmful to those with asthma and chronic pulmonary disease as these stoves are typically unvented. The most common pollutants from gas cook stoves are nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and formaldehyde, and the EPA warns that nitrogen dioxide emissions can be toxic even in low concentrations. While electric appliance alternatives like electric cook stoves and heat pumps emit no onsite air pollution. 

Costs and Burdens

The costs of upgrading electrical services also raises many equity concerns for vulnerable communities, as low-income customers and renters are predicted to face the largest costs. Environmental retrofits to upgrade water heaters and furnaces can lead to increased electricity costs, as natural gas is a cheaper but dirtier source of energy. There is also a long road ahead, as according to the Energy Information Administration in 2020, only “26% of U.S. households use electricity as the only source of energy.” Concerns with changing electricity loads and how this will impact homes that rely on solar panels or have other energy-intensive needs such as electrical vehicles must also be considered. Hefty costs are also associated with these retrofits as one study estimated equipment and installation costs for “electric air-source heat pumps cost around $6,800, though there is also a $5,900 adder for heat pumps in cold climates. A gas furnace was estimated to cost less than $4,000.” Despite these costs, a report from CLASP and Regulatory Assistance Project (RAP) found that the U.S could “reduce national heating bills by $13.6 billion and cut annual CO2 emissions by 67 MT, the equivalent of removing 14.4 million passenger cars for an entire year, by swapping air conditioners for heat pumps.” There are numerous benefits for the planet and individuals that can afford to upgrade to electric appliances, but the inequitable burdens on low-income populations of this new ban must also be addressed.

Steve Cliff

Dr. Steve Cliff is the Executive Officer of the California Air and Resource Board (CARB). Cliff began his appointment in the Summer of 2022 and works with the board to enact programs to reduce air and climate pollution within the state. In his role, Cliff oversees over 1,800 employees and a budget of $2.7 billion. 

Before serving as Executive Officer Cliff worked as the 16th Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and was appointed by President Biden in January 2021. At NHTSA Cliff oversaw the nation’s vehicle safety agency, where he helped advance vehicle technologies and established fuel economy regulations. Dr. Cliff also has an extensive history working with CARB as he first joined as an Air Pollution Specialist in 2008, served as Deputy Executive Officer overseeing the board’s climate program, and was appointed by Governor Brown in 2016 as senior advisor to CARB’s Chair. Governor Brown also appointed Dr. Cliff as Assistant Director for Sustainability to the California Department of Transportation, where he served in this role from 2014 to 2016. 

Dr. Steve Cliff received his bachelor’s and a doctorate in chemistry from the University of California, San Diego. He also has a postdoc on atmospheric sciences from the University of California, Davis. For over two decades Cliff has worked closely with UC Davis, he worked as a research professor in the Department of Applied Sciences, has supported air quality and climate research programs, and is affiliated with the school’s Air Quality Research.  



Hon. Cliff: If you look at close to 14 million existing residences in California that have natural gas water heaters and forced air furnaces, you might purchase that appliance and leave it in place until it completely fails and you’re not continuing to upgrade that over time. And so the emissions suffer as a result. 

Ethan: How do we decarbonize our homes and reduce indoor air pollution? I’m Ethan Elkind, and this is Climate Break. That was Dr. Steve Cliff, Executive Officer of the California Air Resources Board. That’s the agency regulates California’s air pollution and carbon emissions. It recently adopted a rule requiring that only zero-emission space and water heaters be sold in the state by 2030. Dr. Cliff says that because of how long these appliances are used, investing in them now is critical to ensuring a cleaner future.

Hon. Cliff: Ultimately, it means that when new construction is being considered, that from the start, you’re integrating the idea that you’re putting in an electric appliance.

Ethan: But Dr. Cliff says that advancing fossil-free appliances in existing homes without unfairly burdening lower-income residents with the costs of an upgrade will require carefully designed policy.

Hon. Cliff: In implementing this type of rule, we’re gonna have to really think about, for existing buildings: How do we address this equitably? How do we ensure that those benefits get to who needs it the most? And are there gonna be opportunities like incentives to help drive down the cost? We know that it’s not cheap.  So we have to really think through that.

Ethan: To learn more about how to decarbonize buildings through clean appliances and to hear our full interview with Dr. Cliff, visit

Rerun: Equitable Policy for Energy Efficient Homes with Dr. Steve Cliff