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Opponents of Eugene's proposed natural gas ban launch next phase of campaign

 Outdoors near a construction site, a man stands in front of a group, speaking to the press
Karen Richards
Builder Tom Walter said his company typically builds homes with gas for heat and for cooking.

Opponents of Eugene’s proposed ordinance banning natural gas hookups in new residential construction say they’ll proceed with their campaign, even as a federal court ruling puts the legality of the ordinance in doubt.

The April decision invalidated a similar ordinance in Berkeley, California. Local builder Tom Walter said at a Tuesday press conference held on a vacant lot in Northwest Eugene that he still wants Eugene voters to reject the ban in November, because the legal system takes time.

“If it does not pass, then the issue would be moot," he said. "But if it did pass, then I think it would still be struck down, because our gas ban, is actually, in my reading and again I’m not a law expert, is a much clearer overreach than what they did in Berkeley.”

If the coalition hadn’t gotten enough signatures to put the question to voters in the fall, the natural gas ban would have gone into effect on Friday.

Representatives for builders, unions and farmers said moving away from fossil fuels will be gradual, and Eugene residents should continue to have a choice of energy sources.

Eugene for Energy Choice spokesperson Anne Marie Levis declined to comment on how much the group expects to spend on the campaign.

“Campaigns do cost money," she said. "So to get mailers out we would have to do that, but we’re hoping to get the word out and that there’s enough momentum that we won’t have to spend much.”

The group is primarily funded by NW Natural. The gas utility spent around $1 million on the successful effort to gather enough signatures to force a public vote on the ordinance, which was originally approved by the Eugene City Council in February. State campaign finance records do not show additional spending as of June 27, but records do not always reflect recent transactions.

Supporters of the ordinance say it's part of a greenhouse gas reduction strategy. They say the policy will lower the cost of future residential construction and reduce utility bills. "Yes for Eugene" members include builders and architects, as well as organizations like the NAACP and the Springfield Eugene Tenant Association.

Dylan Plummer, a Senior Campaign Representative with the Sierra Club, helped start "Yes for Eugene." He said the Berkeley ruling adds some uncertainty to Eugene’s policy, but he thinks it’s likely the Ninth Circuit Court will re-hear the case in the next few months.

“The decision was misguided and has far reaching impacts on local authority, not just on energy," said Plummer.

Karen Richards joined KLCC as a volunteer reporter in 2012, and became a freelance reporter at the station in 2015. In addition to news reporting, she’s contributed to several feature series for the station, earning multiple awards for her reporting.
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