A coalition of groups pushing to take natural gas out of the local construction equation offered Eugene residents a look at some arguments on why it’s important for the future to be electric ahead of upcoming city council decisions.
Fossil Free Eugene, organized to promote a local transition from energy sources such as natural gas, held its first in a pair of webinars Wednesday in advance of a Eugene City Council work session scheduled for next month about plans to decarbonize buildings in the city by 2045. The coalition also supports a potential ban on future natural gas hookups.
“We are trying to stop the growth of fossil fuel use by helping to push through an ordinance to transition new buildings to all-electric construction,” Fossil Free Eugene Coaliation Coordinator Aya Cockram said at the webinar.
Eugene councilors in April instructed city staff to develop a roadmap to decarbonizing buildings in the city by 2045 and present a draft by June 30. The draft plan is scheduled to be presented at July 20 and July 25 work session.
The council also is exploring banning natural gas hookups in new construction with a start date of Jan. 1, 2023.
The move to eliminate natural gas hookups from new construction in Eugene, which would be the first ordinance of its kind in Oregon, follows disputes between the city and gas provider NW Natural over achieving emissions goals.
NW Natural’s franchise agreement with the city lapsed in May 2021 when a compromise could not be reached.
Fossil Free Eugene was a vocal opponent of NW Natural’s position and pushed the city to adopt electrification as a means of meeting its own climate goals. At its webinar Wednesday, speakers argued the city should pursue the plan.
“Oregon is in pretty good shape in terms of having a policy framework and goals in place and some policies in place that really will set Oregon up and is setting Oregon up for success,” said Beth Doglio, a former state representative from Washington and campaign director for the clean energy nonprofit Climate Solutions. “We have a lot of work to do, and there is no better time to start doing that work than right now — and Eugene has that opportunity.”
Dogilo said many household appliances, such as gas stoves and furnaces, are a major contributor to climate-altering emissions. She said electricity-based construction would help reduce emissions while lowering some future costs.
“In new construction, building it right from the beginning, all electric, is really the way to go,” Doglio said.
Eugene Springfield NAACP Environmental Climate Justice Coordinator Eloise Navarro, shared national statistics with attendees demonstrating a greater impact on non-white communities from climate and pollution. Reducing the use of fossil fuels like natural gas, Navarro said, could reduce some of the outsized impacts on local BIPOC communities.
“Electrification is just one piece of the puzzle, but for Eugene, is an extremely important one,” Navarro said.
Dr. Melanie Plaut, who retired from her OGBYN practice in 2016 and has since been focused on climate issues where they intersect with health, spoke about how methane and particulate matter from gas stoves cause health problems.
“At least some studies have shown that when you cook with a gas stove, the amount of particulate matter is higher than with an electric stove, and you get all these bonuses: you get nitrogen dioxide, you get carbon monoxide, you get formaldehyde and some other volatile organic compounds,” Plaut said. “Everything that we burn, we breath.”
Bob Jenkins, executive director of Oregon Citizens’ Utility Board, told attendees gas costs on Oregon consumers are on the rise and are likely to keep rising as state mandates on emissions reductions affect how NW Natural operates.
“The customers on the gas system will become lower income … and they’re going to be taking on more and more of the cost of the gas system,” Jenkin said. “Folks at the bottom get left behind. We have an opportunity to do things differently with the gas transition, but only if we plan, only if we implement policies to do it differently.”
The next Fossil Free Eugene webinar will focus on the city’s legal authority to regulate gas in buildings and pathways other local governments have taken across the country. The date of the second webinar has not yet been scheduled.
Contact reporter Adam Duvernay at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @DuvernayOR.
Read More: Activists promote electrification before Eugene shares decarbonize plan