Eugene Repeals Its Gas Ban For Fear of Public Rejection
Eugene, Oregon’s city council recently repealed its ordinance banning natural gas in homes before the issue could come to a vote in November. The decision comes weeks after two polls show a lack of interest in banning natural gas across adults nationwide, and months after the Ninth Circuit Court overruled Berkeley’s natural gas ban, which opened Eugene’s prospective ban to legal challenge.
Missing A Vote
Over 12,000 Eugene residents signed a petition from Eugene Residents for Energy Choice to bring the issue to a vote on the November ballot, overturning a 3-5 vote from the city councilors to oppose including a ballot measure. It would have been the first time that voters could weigh in directly on the future of natural gas in homes.
“I don’t remember a ballot measure that’s been certified as quickly and has gotten twice the number of ballot signatures within that short period of time. I’m reluctant to vote in in favor of [withdrawing the electrification ordinance], even though it would save a great deal of time and effort. But I think the voters earned the right to have their say on this.” (emphasis added)
Like Eugene City Councilors’ decision to skip public consensus, all other bans on natural gas have come from city council representatives influenced by activist groups promoting the wave to “electrify everything” and pressure from neighboring counties trying to pass similar legislation based on faulty health reports about gas stoves. It’s no surprise that Eugene’s decision to draft rules that would ban natural gas lines in new residential buildings coincided with neighboring Multnomah County’s hearing of a report to “inform and educate the public” about the alleged health risks of natural gas stoves and appliances.
However, bans have run into criticisms in how they are proposed and actualized. New York and neighboring Washington state’s methods of passing gas bans have been called an “end run around the legislature” for ignoring the democratic process and skipping public debate on the topic.
An Uncertain Vote
A defeat of the measure at the ballot box was a real possibility, according to national polling from Pew. After interviewing over 10,000 people, the poll found that U.S. homeowners have a limited appetite for converting home systems to electric:
“Relatively small shares of homeowners say they have seriously considered replacing their gas oven or stove with an electric or induction system (7 percent), installing an electric heat pump system to heat and cool their home (11 percent), or replacing their gas water heater with an electric system.”
Source: Pew Research Center
Pew’s findings are supported by a separate study by Harvard University and Harris Poll, that found of the 2,090 voters surveyed, 69 percent of voters opposed any rule that would eliminate or phase out gas stoves.
This isn’t the first time that public opposition has threatened electrification ordinance, resulting in a swift about-face from those who support the plan. In 2021, Spokane, Washington residents had managed to get a pre-emptive effort to protect natural gas hookups within their city onto a November ballot, but electrification advocates, afraid of the outcome, successfully petitioned the courts to throw out the ballot initiative.
Stakeholders and Courts
The legality of these measures and the lack of public input on the topic have spelled recent demise for natural gas bans.
Earlier this week, the Department of Energy’s boiler efficiency rule was vacated due to a lack of public notice and comment on the rule’s methodology and calculations by stakeholders. The rule would have raised minimum efficiency standards from 80 percent today to 95 percent efficiency by 2029, effectively banning cost-effective and highly efficient natural gas furnaces in homes that are unable to accommodate the expensive venting requirements for a high-efficiency condensing furnace. Rushing the process condemned the rule to failure, as the court “typically vacates rules when an agency entirely fails to provide notice and comment.”
And in April 2023, the Ninth Circuit Court’s overturned Berkeley, California’s natural gas ban, finding that the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA) preempted the ordinance. According to the decision:
“The panel held that, by its plain text and structure, the [EPCA] preemption provision encompasses building codes that regulate natural gas use by covered products. By preventing such appliances from using natural gas, the Berkeley building code did exactly that. The panel reversed and remanded for further proceedings.”
Eugene will now focus its efforts elsewhere instead of risking legal challenge to a rule that would address “a small percentage of carbon emissions,” according to Councilor Alan Zelenka, one of the five yes votes to the original gas ban ordinance:
“So one of the things that we need to do is focus on things that actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This tactic has not worked. It’s not going to work. It’s also insignificantly small – new construction in the residential, future in new construction emissions is 0.4% of the greenhouse gas emissions we need to reduce over the next 20 years. So if we’re actually trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, this is not the place to focus.” (emphasis added)
Bottom Line: The law and public opinion are not on the side of Eugene’s proposed gas ban, which motivated city councilors to repeal the ban before it could face a loss before the court or at the ballot box. This isn’t the first time electrification advocates had to change their attempts to ban natural gas resources when confronted with this reality.