Dylan Plummer, Sierra Club, 541-531-1858
Noah Rott, Sierra Club, firstname.lastname@example.org
Eugene, Ore. — In response to a widely criticized court ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court that imposed restrictions on local authority to transition new homes to clean energy, the Eugene City Council voted today to rescind a recently-passed ordinance that aimed to phase out the use of gas in new homes. In separate motions, city leaders committed to advancing new climate policies in the coming months – including policies to reduce fossil fuel use in new and existing buildings. One of these motions committed council to meeting later this year to discuss developing incentives and applying for programs under the Inflation Reduction Act.
“The homes Eugene builds today should be equipped to run on clean energy – it’s that simple. It is disappointing that the outcome of a fossil fuel-backed legal challenge is forcing Eugene to temporarily backtrack on this commonsense step to fight climate change, but rest assured, we are not backing down. We will introduce a new policy that complies with the Ninth Circuit ruling at a later date,” said Eugene City Council Member Emily Semple.
The decision by the Ninth Circuit stems from a lawsuit funded by the fossil fuel industry, which holds a significant financial stake in blocking the transition to clean energy in homes. The verdict, which overturned Berkeley, California's electrification ordinance, has generated ambiguity for approximately a dozen cities nationwide, including Eugene. These cities initially adopted a similar approach to the electrification ordinance that was first implemented by Berkeley. Climate advocacy groups, consumer advocates, and the Biden Administration have decried the ruling and are pushing for a reversal of the decision.
Despite the ruling, cities retain several avenues to pursue the transition of new homes away from fossil fuels. Over 100 cities across the U.S. have adopted such policies. In May, Gov. Hochul signed into law a version of the policy for the State of New York. In Oregon, cities like Ashland and Milwaukie are continuing to move forward with alternative approaches to restrict gas in new homes and buildings.
“We are fortunate to have leaders in Eugene who are dedicated to pursuing climate policy. The level of fossil fuel industry’s interference our city has faced is unacceptable. It is time for state and federal leaders to step in and strengthen local authority to guarantee that cities are free to act to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions,” said Dylan Plummer, Senior Campaign Representative for Sierra Club’s Building Electrification Campaign.
The Ninth Circuit decision is only the latest obstacle backed by the fossil fuel industry aimed at derailing climate-ready new construction. Just days after the city initially adopted its electrification ordinance, NW Natural, Oregon’s largest gas utility, filed a referendum to overturn Eugene’s health-protective electrification ordinance at the ballot box. In less than two months, the fossil fuel corporation spent over $1 million dollars to collect the signatures needed to send the policy to a November vote – an unprecedented effort from a gas utility to roll back a health-protective measure.
“From ballot measures, to legal challenges, to front groups, the fossil fuel industry will stop at nothing to block transition to clean energy in homes. But cities in Oregon aren’t backing down, and ultimately, climate-ready homes will prevail, and we will all benefit from cleaner air, lower utility bills, and safer infrastructure,” said Aya Cockram, coalition coordinator with Fossil Free Eugene.
Local support for clean energy policy remains strong despite NW Natural’s significant investments aimed at repealing the ordinance. The “overwhelming majority” of respondents to a recent KLCC radio survey expressed support for Eugene’s electrification ordinance. Travel Lane County, prominent members of front group Eugene Residents for Energy Choice, withdrew their endorsement of the group and the ballot referendum in March of this year, and, in recent weeks, the Eugene and Springfield Chambers of Commerce have disaffiliated from the coalition.
With the City’s decision to rescind the ordinance, the policy will not be on the ballot in November.
"Eugene remains steadfast in its commitment to electrifying new homes and buildings. The prohibition of fossil fuel infrastructure in new low-rise residential construction was one of five motions approved in July 2022; and is one part of the city's Climate Action Plan. It is not our only action to reduce our use of fossil fuels. Our work to promote electrification in homes and businesses will move faster this year thanks to federal and state investments. Council will return to develop a new ordinance on future housing once the legal landscape is clear,” said Eugene Mayor Lucy Vinis.
About the Sierra Club
The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with millions of 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.