Photo by Robert Scherle

Going Natural?

Eugene City Council’s forum on possible natural gas ban brings out large crowd

Before a forum on the City Council’s proposed natural gas ban in new residential housing units, Eugene Mayor Lucy Vinis marveled at the large number of people waiting to provide comments on whether they support or oppose the council’s natural gas ban in new residential units. It’s the most people she’s seen at a City Council meeting and the longest testimony list she’s ever seen, Vinis said. 

Outside of Lane Community College’s downtown campus, which also functions as Eugene’s City Hall, dozens of environmentalists listened to the Eugene City Council’s Nov. 21 public forum through a portable speaker and ate pizza. Even more people were inside the LCC building, unable to enter the room where the City Council was meeting because it had surpassed its maximum capacity of 115. 

The council’s proposed ban on natural gas use in new residential units brought out 188 people whosigned up to comment whether or not they supported the proposed ban. Comments from the public ranged from developers touting the low cost of natural gas to environmentalists saying the ban is a necessary step in the fight against climate change. 

Laura Allen, a representative from Eugene’s Sustainability Committee, whose members are appointed by the Eugene City Council, said the ban is an important step in reducing carbon emissions in Eugene and meet the city’s goals of its Climate Recovery Ordinance 2.0. 

“Electrical alternatives to cooking and heating homes are viable, economically competitive and are already widely used in Eugene,” Allen said. “Because it’s cheaper to construct all-electric homes, this proposal would also reduce housing costs.” 

Cascadia Wildlands conservation director Bethany Cotton said that she is transitioning her house into an all-electric home. While she said she’s finding the process is being obstructed by NW Natural, she said EWEB is offering incentives. “Ensuring that future Eugene homes are all-electric is a win-win,” she added. “Lower costs, lower emissions, healthier indoor air.”

Kathy Shaw-Bassett said heating and cooling technology already exists that can replace natural gas: heat pumps. “In the long run, it’s more affordable,” she added. She said that the proposal won’t take away natural gas appliances from people who currently rely on them. “Although we will need to eradicate fossil fuels, this is a no-brainer first step to make sure the problem doesn’t get any worse,” she said. 

Not all of the 188 people who signed up to speak actually testified, as some no-showed when the forum began. The night’s meeting had three other public forums. 

More people spoke in favor of the ban than against it. According to the Sierra Club, which helped organize the rally to support the natural gas ban, 63 spoke for the policy and about 40 were against banning it. 

If passed, the ordinance would ban natural gas use in new residential buildings, which includes single-family, duplex, triplex and any housing unit that is fewer than three stories tall. The ban would go into effect in 2023. Eugene would be the first Oregon city to pass such a ban, joining more than 90 other cities throughout the country, including Berkeley, San Jose and Seattle. 

Some against the ban said they worry a future ban would be expanded to existing homes and industry. 

Karl Walrod, who works as a sand and gravel manager at Wildish Sand and Gravel, said a future council might end up targeting other sectors. 

“We use natural gas to heat our hot water to make concrete in the winter time. We use it to make asphalt,” he said. “We need those for better roads, building schools, homes — whatever you need, you need natural gas.” 

Other people who spoke against the ban also mentioned that it’s cheaper to heat homes for mobile home parks and other affordable housing units. Some mentioned that EWEB doesn’t have the capacity to fuel the increased demand on its electrical grid. And one person erroneously said that the science isn’t settled on whether humans cause climate change and the council should consider that perspective in their decision making. 

“Claire Syrett was recalled for pushing that kind of agenda,” said Peter Mead, who also questioned the science behind human-caused climate change. “It’s important to wait until the new Ward 7 councilor comes on board before making this decision.” 

The earliest the Eugene City Council could vote on a natural gas ban is January 2023, which would be after appointing a successor to Syrett, who lost a recall election in September over her support of a possible mass transit proposal 

The Nov. 21 public hearing ended around 10:30 pm, after more than three and a half hours of public comment. There were 32 members who hadn’t commented, and Vinis said that the Eugene City Council would hold another forum on the subject on a date to be determined.

This article has been updated 

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