In the theology of conspiracy theorists in the United States, elements of the government are only waiting for the opportunity to crack down on the second amendment rights of citizens to bear arms.
“They are coming after your guns” is an oft-heard refrain in opposition to additional controls on the ownership or use of firearms.
This week a new front opened up in the culture wars: the protection of the right of Americans to operate gas cookers.
People in about 40 million homes across the US use a gas stove for cooking.
However, a study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health has linked the use of indoor gas stoves with an increased risk of children developing asthma.
The figures produced in the study could be extrapolated to suggest that about 650,000 children could be suffering asthma attacks and using inhalers because they live in proximity to gas cookers.
All this led to a low-profile government agency, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), which is responsible for safeguarding the public from dangerous household goods, suggesting before Christmas that it could clamp down on the use of gas cookers.
“This is a hidden hazard,” CPSC commissioner Richard Trumka told the news organisation Bloomberg on Monday.
“Any option is on the table. Products that can’t be made safe can be banned.”
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The comments led to outrage from some on the right. Some politicians painted a picture of government agents turning up in peoples’ kitchens to remove their cookers even though any regulations would only affect new appliances on the market.
“If the maniacs in the White House come for my stove, they can pry it from my cold dead hands,” Ronny Jackson, a Republican member of the House of Representatives from Texas and a former White House doctor, said in response.
“Come and take it,” he said.
Republican senator Ted Cruz sought to draw the White House into the controversy, tweeting a photograph of the first lady Jill Biden cooking green vegetables on a gas stove.
“Rules for thee but not for me,” he said in a caption.
Even some Democrats joined in the furore.
Conservative Democrat from West Virginia Joe Manchin tweeted that a ban on gas stoves would be “a recipe for disaster” and that the federal government had no business telling American families how to cook their dinner.
The controversy proved once again that in an era of hyper-partisanship virtually any issue can be weaponised and loose language by government agencies or anyone linked to the Biden administration can be transformed quickly into an issue to attack political opponents.
Eventually the White House had to step in and assure the American public that no one would be coming to take away their gas cookers.
The Biden administration “does not support banning gas stoves”, Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, said on Wednesday.
Jean-Pierre added that the CPSC “is not banning gas stoves. I just want to be very clear on that”.
Chairman of the CPSC Alexander Hoehn-Saric sought to walk back Trumka’s comments on gas cookers from a couple of days earlier.
“Research indicates that emissions from gas stoves can be hazardous and the CPSC is looking for ways to reduce related indoor air quality hazards,” Hoehn-Saric said. “But to be clear, I am not looking to ban gas stoves and the CPSC has no proceeding to do so.
“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. This is part of our product safety mission – learning about hazards and working to make products safer.”
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The heat that was turned up on the gas cooker controversy this week is likely to fizzle out quickly, but it showed the potential political trouble the Biden administration will face in the next two years as it seeks to put in place new measures to tackle climate change.
Biden in 2021 gave a commitment that the US would cut its greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 52 per cent by the end of the decade.
Authorities in New York earlier this week urged that it become the first state to ban natural gas heating and appliances in new buildings.
However, the president’s environmental plans are being questioned by Republicans and allies of the fossil fuel sector who are warning against a clampdown on American energy.
The gas stove controversy of last week is likely to be one of many in the months ahead.