Eugene repeals natural gas ban measure after legal challenge

EUGENE, Ore. (KGW) — The city of Eugene reversed a controversial policy about natural gas appliances after it faced both local opposition and a federal legal threat.

The Eugene City Council, arguing that natural gas is a health and climate threat, passed an ordinance in February 2023 that banned natural-gas hookups in new, low-rise, residential construction.

Opponents of the measure, almost entirely funded by Northwest Natural, the state’s largest gas utility, gathered enough signatures to force a city-wide vote on the ban.

Then in April, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit struck down an almost identical law in Berkeley, California.

That ruling by the appeals court, according to Eugene Mayor Lucy Vinis, would have proved an insurmountable challenge to the ban in Eugene if the city’s residents voted to approve it. Vinis said she still believes work must be done to lessen climate impact by cutting fossil fuels.

“But I also believe when you’re faced with a brick wall, and this legal challenge faces us with a brick wall, you have to find other pathways to do the work,” Vinis said.

Eugene City Councilor Emily Semple, who introduced the original measure, said she was hopeful that the work in Eugene would lead to cuts in carbon emissions elsewhere.

“I think it’s time to take a pause,” Semple said. “Obviously there’s a lot of controversy. And to come back after community communication, conversation, and to see what other cities — we sparked something and other cities are now doing this.”

One of those other cities was Milwaukie, which has a similar ordinance that’s scheduled to go into effect early next year. What the appeal court’s ruling, and Eugene’s move this week, means for that city remains to be seen.

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