San Francisco Bay air quality regulators have made a landmark move in a national squabble over natural gas-fueled appliances by approving a gradual phaseout of gas-powered water heaters and furnaces.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) voted on Wednesday to adopt new rules that seek to eliminate harmful nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions from these appliances. The rules will ban the sale of NOx-emitting natural gas water heaters in 2027 and prohibit NOx-emitting furnaces in 2029 and large commercial water heaters in 2031. 

NOx emissions from building appliances are on par with those generated by passenger vehicles in the Bay Area, according to BAAQMD. In addition to raising the risk of respiratory infections and asthma, NOx releases can also contribute to the formation of ozone and fine particulate matter, the agency noted.

Exposure to particulate pollution is linked to other respiratory conditions, neurological disease, heart attack, stroke, lung cancer and premature death, BAAQMD warned.

“The 1.8 million water heaters and furnaces in the Bay Area significantly impact our air quality, resulting in dozens of early deaths and a wide range of health impacts, particularly in communities of color,” Philip Fine, executive officer of the Air District, said in a statement.

The Air District regulates stationary sources of air pollution in nine Bay Area counties: Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, southwestern Solano and southern Sonoma.

“This groundbreaking regulation will phase out the most polluting appliances in homes and businesses to protect Bay Area residents from the harmful air pollution they cause,” Fine added.

Notably, however, the rules will apply only to new appliances and do not include those used for cooking, such as gas stoves.

Gas stoves have sparked heated debate over the past few months, particularly after a member of the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission floated the idea of stricter regulations or even a possible ban on these appliances.

Following a flurry of opposition from Republicans nationwide, the Commission chair said he did not intend to ban gas stoves and that the agency had no proceedings to do so.

Nonetheless, the Commission said earlier this month that it was requesting information from the public about any hazards connected to gas stoves, as well as possible solutions to the issue. 

Rather than instituting a prohibition on natural gas furnaces and water heaters across the board, the language in Wednesday’s BAAQMD announcement refers only to the elimination of “NOx-emitting natural gas furnaces and water heaters.”

However, a separate fact sheet issued by the agency notes that “currently, the only zero-NOx appliances available are electric appliances.”

The new amendments will improve regional air quality and reduce exposure to particulate matter, while saving up to $890 million annually in pollution-related health impacts, according to BAAQMD.

“The new amendments will safeguard public health against the hazards of these pollutants and prevent an estimated 85 premature deaths, as well as dozens of new asthma cases, in the Bay Area each year,” a statement from the agency added.