Mar 18, 2024

Opponents of Eugene's natural gas ban want it on 2023 ballot

Opponents of Eugene’s move to ban natural gas in new homes have filed a petition that puts the ordinance on hold and nearly have the required number of signatures to put it on the ballot.

Eugene’s city council voted 5-3 on Feb. 6 to ban natural gas and other fossil fuel infrastructure in new homes, townhouses and other residential structures no taller than three stories.

The ordinance was set to apply to building permit applications submitted on or after June 30.

But opponents filed a prospective referendum petition on Feb. 9 to put the issue on the ballot. That means the city must hold off on implementing the ordinance until at least mid-March and potentially until a vote on the measure, if petitioners are successful.

The proposed ballot measure mirrors the ordinance, which prohibits fossil fuel infrastructure in new low-rise residential buildings. It takes effect for building permits submitted on or after June 30.

It defines fossil fuel infrastructure as “natural gas piping, fuel oil piping, or other fossil fuel piping or conveyance system within a building, that connects a source of supply to a fossil-fuel burning appliance.”

Low-rise residential buildings are ones no taller than three stories with one or more permanent dwelling units, including:

The ordinance does not include mixed-used buildings where there are both retail and residential uses. It also does not include existing homes.

Read more:Eugene bans natural gas, other fossil fuel infrastructure in some new residential buildings

Eugene Residents for Energy Choice is referring the gas ban to the ballot because its members believe "all Eugene residents should have a voice in choosing what energy system is right for them."

Opponents say officials took a "surprise vote" to pass the ban and "ignored the voices of thousands of residents, workers and community leaders who have voiced their opposition." The council agenda originally included a vote on a potential ballot measure, not on the ordinance.

Eugene's Chamber of Commerce surveyed its members and found 79% don't support the ban and 92% believe voters, not the council, should decide on the policy.

The chamber said in a statement it's "happy to advocate on behalf of our members on this topic and support the efforts to refer this poorly crafted policy to the voters."

The petition pauses the implementation of the ban, according to information the city attorney gave officials during the Feb. 6 meeting. If petitioners collect enough signatures, that stay would continue until an eventual vote on the ballot measure.

Petitioners have gathered around 6,000 signatures as of Monday.

That’s about 93% of the 6,460 certified signatures they need to gather by March 10 to make the ballot. That requirement is based on 10% of the votes cast for mayor in the most recent mayoral election.

Because petitions usually include some invalid signatures, the group likely will need to collect hundreds more signatures than the requirement. Petitioners still expect to file signatures before the March 10 deadline.

If they meet the requirement, the measure would appear on the ballot during a future election. That likely would be the May or November election, but the timing would depend on when the county clerk verifies signatures.

NW Natural, one of three natural gas providers in Oregon, has opposed Eugene’s efforts to ban the fossil fuel and is helping bankroll efforts to get the ordinance on the ballot.

The company made a $51,401.31 in-kind contribution on Feb. 10 to the Eugene Residents for Energy Choice, according to committee campaign finance records in ORESTAR.

The description indicates NW Natural paid for voter data, the committee’s website domain and office equipment for petitioners to use.

Initiative & Referendum Campaign Management Services also is helping with efforts to get the ordinance on the ballot and has a Craigslist ad out for canvassers.

There are several who would vote in favor of the measure if it makes it to the ballot.

Dozens of climate, environmental justice, health, housing and racial justice groups that organized for more than two years in favor of the policy praised the council’s vote.

They described the move as “a historic step that will cut climate pollution, improve air quality, and lower utility bills for households.”

Contact city government watchdog Megan Banta at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @MeganBanta_1.

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