EUGENE, OR - After three months of public pressure and countless hours of public testimony about the climate and health impacts of fracked gas, the City’s franchise negotiations with NW Natural last night hit an impasse. Members of the Fossil Free Eugene campaign hailed this new development as a victory, as the franchise agreement being discussed was set to lock the city into a ten-year contract in which the fracked gas corporation could use the City’s right of way to expand its infrastructure and capacity without restriction.
Dylan Plummer, Grassroots Organizer with Cascadia Wildlands, said:
“I am heartened to see the City taking bold steps to reconsider contract terms with NorthWest Natural after many months of grassroots pressure to act on climate. NorthWest Natural is following the same fossil fuel playbook used against communities across the country to try and intimidate our town — astroturfing tactics, veiled threats, and public relations designed to delay, divide, and distract. Last night a majority of our City Council showed us, the youth of Eugene, that they’re not fooled and are ready to take bold action to transition to renewable energy and protect our future.”
Councilor Jennifer Yeh said:
“While I was supportive of the efforts to negotiate a new franchise agreement and carbon reduction agreement initially, because I felt like having NorthWest Natural as a partner in this agreement would be ideal, it seems that dragging out these unsuccessful negotiations is not going to benefit anyone. It’s time for us to look for different ways to achieve our climate recovery goals concerning the use of natural gas”
“We cannot continue to use fossil fuels like we have in the past. If NorthWest Natural does not want to be a partner in reducing these negative impacts, then we need to find other ways to protect our community, as a community.”
“Why encourage the increased use of a harmful fossil fuel, when we can transition to safer carbon free options… Eugene may be a small city, but by adding our efforts to the efforts of other communities, we can make real change”
Mayor Lucy Vinis said:
“I don’t want to be a model to show how a city is held hostage to a franchise agreement that doesn’t serve our higher goals. It is an important moment to stand really clearly for what we see as our legacy work going forward.”
“This meeting is a point in time to just say that we’re most likely to see this lapse, it’s not to say that we’re not continuing to negotiate, that we’re not going to continue to try and find a path… but we’re at this point of time where we’re just not close enough”
Councilor Claire Syrett said:
“Two years ago we gave NorthWest Natural an opportunity to step up and join us in demonstrating leadership on addressing climate change, and to create a model of an agreement that other communities could follow… As we’ve gone through this process, I have seen NorthWest Natural dragging their feet, engaging in a public relations campaign that spreads lies about what we are doing, that they are not sincere in wanting to come to an agreement that would actually benefit us.”
“[The franchise agreement that NorthWest Natural is proposing] is really a lopsided agreement that pays lip service to their state commitment to work towards greenhouse gas reduction. This is an industry that is facing an existential crisis: fossil fuels need to be phased out. We were hoping to work together towards a transition to a future that we need to embrace, but NorthWest Natural seems to be working the tobacco industry playbook instead, seems determined to push back on these efforts instead of facing the future with grace and integrity.”
The city of Eugene has been in a protracted back and forth with the gas utility for over a year and a half over the future of using “natural” fracked gas to heat homes, schools and businesses in the city, and Councilors are openly discussing the possibility of walking away from negotiations.
Eugene has demanded that the utility commit to emissions reductions necessary to reach their climate goals. Yet the utility has refused to budge, leading to drawn-out negotiations and multiple six-month extensions of the current agreement. The current extension is set to end in May, and City employees say that they need to have a plan of action by mid February at the latest to avoid a lapse in the agreement.
Sahara Valentine, a high school organizer with Earth Guardians 350 (EG350) and plaintiff in the Juliana v. United States climate lawsuit, said:
“My generation recognizes that we will be inheriting the climate crisis, and that’s why we are fighting to prioritize a safe environment for all. It is time for City Council to show that they value my future by justly transition Eugene off of fossil fuels”
Yesterday morning, more than 30 organizations, including the national environmental organization the Sierra Club, Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility and NAACP Eugene Springfield sent a public letter to Mayor Lucy Vinis, City Manager Sarah Medary, and the Eugene City Council, calling on Eugene to walk away from franchise agreement negotiations with the fracked gas utility NorthWest Natural. The letter outlined the organizations’ concerns about the impacts of gas to climate and public health. Last month, the Eugene Sustainability Commission endorsed the platform of this newly formed alliance, the Fossil Free Eugene coalition, in a resolution.
Damon Motz-Storey, Healthy Climate Program Director with Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility, said:
“The scientific evidence is clear: not only does fracked gas accelerate the climate crisis — one of the greatest public health crises the world has ever faced — it also harms our health right inside of our homes. We must take bold action to phase out the use of gas in homes, increase home energy efficiency, and transition to clean energy by developing the local workforce.”
Beyond the immediate cessation of franchise negotiations, the coalition is calling for the city to: (1) ban all new fossil fuel infrastructure, including new gas hookups; (2) mandate a transition to 100% renewable energy; and (3) utilize the ongoing franchise agreement negotiations with NorthWest Natural to develop a fund for transitioning the community to renewables.
Avery Temple, Environmental and Climate Justice Fellow with Cascadia Wildlands, said:
“Big corporate polluters, like NorthWest Natural, cause massive harm to BIPOC communities. Fossil fuel industries induce climate change at our expense to line their pockets. We must be bold in our demands to forge a just transition away from fossil fuels and towards an equitable future for all.”
Rachel Golden, deputy director of the Sierra Club’s Clean Buildings campaign, said:
“The science is clear: we can’t avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis if we keep making new buildings dependent on fracked gas. By asking their gas utility to quit digging the climate hole any deeper, Eugene is putting action behind their words and setting a national example for climate leadership.”
Selena Blick, Fossil Free Eugene Coordinator with 350 Eugene, said:
“If the City Council is serious about meeting Eugene’s climate goals, they need to stand up to NorthWest Natural and walk away from this franchise agreement. NorthWest Natural does not have our city’s or our planet’s best interests at heart and must be treated just like any other fossil fuel company and held accountable for their role in the climate crisis.”
Cities and states across the country are embracing efforts to require that new construction utilize electric appliances instead of gas-fired ones. For most of Oregon, swapping gas for electric heating is the climate equivalent of giving up a car cold turkey. While most cities are using ordinances and building code updates to address building emissions, Eugene is taking a unique approach by critically examining their franchise agreement with their gas utility.
The following organizations are part of the Fossil Free Eugene Coalition: Beyond Toxics, Black Thistle Street Aid, Breach Collective, Cascadia Action Network, Cascadia Wildlands, Earth Guardians 350, East Side Solar, Electrify Now, Eugene Democratic Socialists of America, Eugene Environmental and Climate Justice Committee, Eugene Interfaith Earthkeepers, Extinction Rebellion Justice Eugene, Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics and Ecology, Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation, Great Northwest Installation, Human Rights, Greywater Action, Human Stories, Many Rivers Group Sierra Club, NAACP Eugene Springfield, Oregon Chapter Sierra Club, Oregon League of Conservation Voters, Protect Our Winters - Central Oregon Alliance, Sanctuary Committee of Temple Beth Israel, The Sierra Club (National), Springfield Eugene Tenants Association, Springfield Eugene Showing Up for Racial Justice, Stand.earth, Sunrise Eugene, Solar Oregon, Twende Solar, University of Oregon Climate Justice League, and 350 Eugene.
Background and Resources:
Watch the City Council work session here (starting at around 50 minutes). Watch the public forum and the rest of the work session here. Find the draft of the franchise agreement being discussed here (starting at page 17).
Read the letter sent to Mayor Lucy Vinis and Eugene City Councilors here. Read more about the City of Eugene’s franchise agreement with NorthWest Natural here. Read about the Fossil Free Coalition here.
Find relevant, free to use photographs here.
About the Sierra Club
The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 3.5 million members and supporters. In addition to protecting every person's right to get outdoors and access the healing power of nature, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action. For more information, visit www.sierraclub.org.