FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 6, 2023
Bethany Cotton, Cascadia Wildlands, email@example.com, 503.327.4923
Dylan Plummer, Sierra Club, firstname.lastname@example.org, 541.531.1858
Eugene, Ore. — The City of Eugene voted five to three tonight to phase out fossil fuels like gas in new homes and buildings, a historic step that will cut climate pollution, improve air quality, and lower utility bills for households. The vote from the City Council delivered a major victory to the dozens of climate, environmental justice, health, housing and racial justice groups who organized for more than two years in favor of the policy.
“After years of deliberation, Eugene has taken a critical step to cut dangerous air pollution and meet its climate goals with the passage of this ordinance,” said Eugene City Councilor Emily Semple. “With this policy, our city is now set to help lead Oregon in a just transition to clean renewable electricity in homes.”
The ordinance approved by the Council requires that all new residential construction, including single-family homes and multi-family buildings three stories and below, be constructed all-electric starting June 30, 2023.
Eugene is the 97th city across the country to pass a climate policy incentivizing or requiring electric appliances in new homes and buildings. New all-electric homes in Eugene cut climate pollution by 74% compared to homes that burn gas, while lowering utility bills by nearly $400 dollars annually, according to an analysis from RMI.
“Burning fossil fuels in homes poses an imminent threat to our health and climate. It’s clear we cannot let this source of pollution grow unchecked. I am proud of our City’s leadership in paving the way for local governments across Oregon to take this step in transitioning new homes to clean energy,” said Eugene Mayor Lucy Vinis.
In addition to warming the planet, gas appliances are also a major source of air pollution, both indoors and out. A literature review of the dozens of studies connecting gas appliances like stoves in homes with dangerous air quality prompted the health department in Multnomah County, Oregon to recommend a transition away from gas appliances last year. A recent study from RMI, University of Sydney, and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine found that more than 12% – or one in eight – of childhood asthma cases nationwide can be attributed to gas stove pollution.
“Communities of color in Eugene are more likely to breathe hazardous air in our neighborhoods – our homes should be places of refuge, not one more source of pollution for overburdened lungs. The City of Eugene took an important step today to increase access to healthy all-electric homes,” said Jerrel Brown, environmental and climate justice organizer with the NAACP Eugene-Springfield.
The vote from the City of Eugene came despite fierce opposition from Oregon’s largest gas utility, NW Natural. In the months leading up to the vote, NW Natural angered some Council members by pursuing a range of scare tactics to dissuade the City from moving forward with the climate policy, including providing misleading verbal and written communications to the Council.
“In the face of an aggressive misinformation campaign from NW Natural and the fossil fuel industry at large, local leaders in Eugene have taken a bold step to achieve its climate targets and protect the public from air pollution,” said Dylan Plummer, Senior Campaign Representative with the Sierra Club. “Elected officials across Oregon should follow Eugene’s lead. Local leadership in standing up to polluters has never been more important.”
NW Natural’s misinformation campaign extended outside of Eugene, to communities across Oregon considering electrification measures. Last week, the New York Times reported that in Multnomah County, NW Natural hired a toxicologist with ties to Big Tobacco, to testify at a County hearing, attempting to cast doubt on the science connecting gas stoves to health harms. Records also show that another expert from Gradient Corp sent written testimony to the Eugene City Council on behalf of NW Natural, which was later forwarded to Oregon legislators. Last week, organizations with the Fossil Free Eugene Coalition submitted comments to the City highlighting Dr. Goodman and NW Natural’s false and misleading claims.
“The passage of Oregon’s first electrification ordinance is a tremendous victory for the public health and safety of Eugene residents,” said David De La Torre, healthy climate program director at Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility. “As communities across Oregon continue to face the impacts of the COVID 19 crisis and wildfire smoke, it is critical local governments are taking action to reduce exposure to pollutants that contribute to respiratory health impacts, and which increase risk and vulnerability to serious illness.”
Phasing out gas in new homes and buildings is an important first step, and advocates now hope that policy makers in Eugene will work to expand access to electric appliances in existing homes.
“It is already challenging enough to find affordable and accessible housing in Eugene. No tenant should be forced to put their health in harm’s way to put a roof over their head,” noted Timothy Morris, Executive Director of the Springfield Eugene Tenants Association. “We are glad that the City of Eugene has voted to expand access to healthy all-electric homes for future renters.”
Starting this year, Oregon households will be able to take advantage of federal incentives through the Inflation Reduction Act to support the transition to healthy electric appliances – including up to $8,000 per household for an electric heat pump, $1,750 for a heat pump water heater, and $840 for an electric stove.
“We applaud Eugene for taking this significant step toward enlivening our city’s Climate Action Plan, protecting public health, and building a more resilient community,” said Bethany Cotton conservation director with Cascadia Wildlands. “We look forward to working with the city on the next steps to ensure the community can easily access electrification incentives and ensure a just transition off of fossil fuel reliance in buildings and transportation.”
“The most vulnerable families in our community may not be aware that every moment they spend cooking to feed their families, they are breathing in poisonous gasses and chemicals that can cause serious diseases like asthma or increase the risk of pneumonia. Yet, these same families are often renters, without the say-so in what appliances are installed in their homes. With the help of ordinances based on public health concerns such as the action taken by Eugene’s City Council today, homes and apartments of the future will be safer because electric appliances don’t emit toxic pollution,” said Lisa Arkin, Executive Director of Beyond Toxics.
Find free-to-use photos and footage here. Please attribute to the Fossil Free Eugene Coalition.