Eugene removes an ordinance restricting some natural gas hookups from the upcoming fall ballot

By Nathan Wilk (KLCC)
July 11, 2023 5:12 p.m.

Eugene voters will not be deciding this November whether to approve an ordinance to restrict natural gas.

The Eugene City Council voted Monday night to repeal the measure, which would have banned natural gas hook-ups in new low-rise residential buildings. It comes about five months after the council originally approved the ban outright. It would have taken effect June 30, but petitioners who were financially backed by gas utility NW Natural forced it to a public vote, slated for this fall.

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Natural gas, shown burning on this stovetop, led to a political battle in Eugene this year as the city moved to ban hookups on new low-rise residential buildings. That led to backlash, largely funded by NW Natural, and a decision this week to take the proposed ordinance off the upcoming ballot.

Natural gas, shown burning on this stovetop, led to a political battle in Eugene this year as the city moved to ban hookups on new low-rise residential buildings. That led to backlash, largely funded by NW Natural, and a decision this week to take the proposed ordinance off the upcoming ballot.

Cassandra Profita / OPB

The process was complicated by a federal court in May, which ruled that Berkeley, California did not have the authority to ban natural gas in new buildings. Eugene Mayor Lucy Vinis said that decision means a local ban could also be challenged.

“We do have an obligation to stem the flow of fossil fuels in our community,” Vinis said. “Buildings contribute to fossil fuels. But I also believe when you’re faced with a brick wall, and this legal challenge faces us with a brick wall, you have to find other pathways to do the work.”

Instead, councilors said they will explore alternative ways to reduce carbon emissions, including incentives for businesses. Councilor Alan Zelenka said new buildings make up a small percentage of carbon emissions, and the city should focus its efforts elsewhere.

Supporters of the ordinance expressed disappointment with the decision. Dylan Plummer is with the Sierra Club, an environmental group that campaigned for the gas ban.

“It is time for state and federal leaders to step in and strengthen local authority to guarantee that cities are free to act to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions,” Plummer said in a press release issued after the council’s decision to repeal the ordinance.

Representatives of the referendum campaign against the gas ban did not respond to a request for comment Monday evening. A political action committee called “Eugene Residents for Energy Choice” had raised more than $1 million in support of the successful effort to collect signatures this spring to force a public vote on the ordinance. Nearly all of the money was donated to the campaign by NW Natural, a utility that supplies natural gas to homes in Eugene.

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