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Gas utility only funder so far of referendum effort

A natural gas oven.
Opponents of Eugene's new natural gas ordinance are gathering signatures to try to force a vote.

The gas utility NW Natural is so far the only funder of an effort to overturn Eugene’s new natural gas ordinance.

The new law was approved by the Eugene City Council on February 6. It bans fossil fuel hookups in new low-rise residential construction.

Opponents of the ordinance are gathering signatures to try to prevent it from taking effect later this year. The referendum’s chief petitioners are Eugene residents, but the effort so far has just one funder, according to state campaign finance records.

That’s NW Natural, which so far has sunk more than $650,000 into the effort. As of Feb. 27, the only expenditure listed was $350,000 to a signature-gathering firm based in eastern Washington.

The campaign has until March 10 to gather 6,460 valid signatures. A spokesperson said this week they’re on track to do that. Like most signature-gathering efforts, the true goal is to collect well more than the minimum required amount, since a certain percentage of signatures are generally invalid.

"Our goal is to have 12,000 signatures," said Anne Marie Levis, the campaign chair. "A lot of people think they live in the city but live in unincorporated areas that have a Eugene address. We’re counting on quite a few people not being valid."

Meanwhile, supporters of the new ordinance are formally objecting to the wording of the potential referendum’s ballot title, which was created by the city of Eugene. A Lane County judge will consider the objections.

“The law requires that ballot titles be clear, fair, and unbiased,” said Jan Hasselman, a senior attorney with Earthjustice, in a press release. “We are going to court to ensure every Eugene voter understands the stakes and importance of preventing dangerous fossil gas from being built into new homes.”

It's common to challenge ballot titles in initiative and referendum campaigns. A decision is expected quickly due to the relatively short timeframe, with just 30 days between the date of the ordinance's passage until the deadline to gather signatures.

If the signature-gathering effort is successful, the ordinance would be placed on hold until the outcome of an election is known. The date of a potential election is undetermined, but would likely be in either May or November.

Chris Lehman has been reporting on Oregon issues since 2006. He joined the KLCC news department in December 2018 and became News Director in March 2023. Chris was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and graduated from Temple University with a degree in journalism. His public broadcasting career includes stops in Louisiana and Illinois. Chris has filed for national programs including “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered.”
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