Oregon Municipalities Push Anti-Natural Gas Agenda Based on Flawed Research

Consumer access to natural gas is under threat in Oregon, where two major municipalities are pushing new policy proposals based on deeply flawed research and scare tactics.

In Eugene, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported that the “City Council recently voted to begin drafting rules that would ban natural gas lines in new residential buildings. If passed, it would make Eugene the first city in Oregon to do so.” The city council is holding a public hearing on November 21 to consider an ordinance advancing this policy.

Meanwhile, in Multnomah County, home of Portland – the state’s largest city – the board of commissioners was recently briefed on a new county-commissioned report claiming that gas stoves negatively impact indoor air quality and are a “health risk.” The report recommends that households transition from natural gas to electric appliances. The county’s move could be the first step toward an all-out natural gas ban.

Report Repeats Flawed Claims Based On Shoddy Study

Multnomah County recently held a hearing to review the report and to “inform and educate the public” about the alleged health risks of natural gas stoves and appliances. But residents who watched the hearing didn’t get the full picture. Much of the agenda-driven hearing reiterated claims from activist-based studies that have avoided scrutiny from officials in other states.

Dr. Julie Goodman, a fellow of the American College of Epidemiology and Academy of Toxicological Sciences, who testified before the presentation in Multnomah County, summed up the issues with the research well, telling the commissioners:

“The presentation lists many health effects associated with pollutants, generally. But there is no discussion of the concentrations at which any of these effects could occur. Chemicals do not cause harmful effects unless they are at a dose high enough to overwhelm the body’s normal biological processes. And so, what this means is that the mere presence of an air pollutant doesn’t indicate an increased health risk. And without a consideration of concentration or dose, it’s not possible to determine whether exposures could be harmful.

“… A review of the evidence shows indicates that longer-term average NO2 concentrations in homes with gas cooking are not of a potential health concern. Importantly, it is well-established that ventilation mitigates cooking emissions, regardless of the source of the energy used.” (emphasis added)

The report included research published earlier this year from the anti-energy activist group Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy (PSEHE) and a Stanford University graduate student. As Energy In Depth has written before, this study relied on flawed methodology – including sealing its test kitchen in plastic and making apples-to-oranges comparisons – which it tied to dubious health impacts. Since the report’s release, anti-gas activists have continued to try to use it to restrict natural gas access, as well as plenty of other flawed studies criticizing natural gas stoves that EID has covered.

Dr. Daniel Tormey, the president of Catalyst Environmental Solutions, also summed up the flaws with PSEHE’s study in a Washington Times column, noting the primary source of pollutants is the food itself, not the stove. He wrote:

What is being cooked is often the predominant source of emissions, rather than how you cook it. That’s an important fact because the authors of this latest study explicitly called for replacing your gas stoves with electric ones because of health impacts. Since a major source of emissions in your kitchen is the food you cook, replacing your gas stove with electric will do very little to address indoor air quality or health.” (emphasis added)

Furthermore, PSEHE is a clearly biased organization out to restrict access to natural gas, not produce credible research. The group’s founder, self-proclaimed activist Tony Ingraffea, has bragged his research is “a form of advocacy” that has “advocacy-laced words and phrases in our papers,” and receives funding from the anti-natural gas Park Foundation. And the group’s Executive Director Seth Shonkoff literally wrote the book on how to use headline generating research to influence public perception, regardless of the quality of said research or its actual findings.

Even though there are very real methodology problems in the PSEHE study and other research included in the Multnomah County report, county leadership appears to be pushing to adopt aggressive anti-natural gas policies, which raises a few key questions:

Does the public know? Are these Oregon municipalities doing enough to educate the public about their proposals?

After the presentation, Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury said that the report was only the first step in educating the public on this issue before the board took “next steps.” But do county residents know that their elected officials are moving so aggressively to restrict natural gas use?

Do Oregon residents even support these proposals?

Natural gas appliances are popular in Oregon and nationwide. Do Oregon residents really want to see their government step it to prevent them from purchasing the stoves and furnaces they want?

Bottom Line: Flawed research is being used to disregard consumer choice when it comes to how Oregonians heat their homes or cook their food – a trend that’s being seen across the country.

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