Three Eugene residents, David De La Torre, Aya Cockram, and Timothy Morris, have filed today to appeal the language that will appear on an upcoming ballot if NW Natural succeeds in gathering the required signatures to send a recently passed electrification ordinance to voters.
The three registered voters, represented by Earthjustice and Margaret Olney, are calling for increased clarity in the ballot language. The requested changes include adding important context such as how the electrification ordinance is necessary to achieve goals in the existing 2014 Climate Recovery Ordinance, which requires the City of Eugene to reduce consumption of fossil fuels by 50% of 2010 levels by 2030.
Both measures were widely supported by Eugene residents.
“We are deeply disturbed that NW Natural, the state’s largest fossil fuel utility, is working to overturn a popular policy to protect public health and safety, and reduce climate pollution,” said David De La Torre, one of the petitioners and healthy climate program director with Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility. “Eugene residents strongly support climate action, and we are ready to fight to protect this policy, and our community, from the fossil fuel industry.”
This filing is a clear signal that advocates and organizations who supported the Eugene City Council to pass the electrification ordinance are preparing to run an aggressive campaign to defend the policy from NW Natural’s efforts to roll it back.
“The law requires that ballot titles be clear, fair, and unbiased,” said Jan Hasselman, a senior attorney with Earthjustice. “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.”
“This legal challenge will help ensure Eugene voters have accurate information about the devastating health, climate and economic impacts of continuing to pipe fossil fuels into new homes,” said Aya Cockram, one of the petitioners and coalition coordinator of the Fossil Free Eugene Coalition.
The campaign is also making it clear who is leading the referendum effort. On February 20, the Petition Committee “Eugene Residents for Energy Choice” reported their first contribution, a $51,401.31 in-kind contribution from NW Natural, confirming what many actual Eugene residents already knew: the Portland-registered Petition Committee is simply the latest front group for the investor-owned fossil fuel utility.
The group was established by NW Natural in a first-in-the-nation attempt by the gas industry to roll back local climate policy via a ballot petition, following Eugene City Council’s vote to join cities around the country in passing a policy to restrict the use of methane gas in new residential buildings. Almost immediately after Eugene City Council’s passage of this policy in early February, where it became the first city in the state to do so, NW Natural made clear its intention to collect signatures to send the policy to the ballot.
“NW Natural’s work to roll back climate policy in Eugene represents the interests of big business and the fossil fuel industry. We are filing this petition on behalf of actual Eugene residents to ensure that, as our city builds much needed affordable housing, it is safe and sustainable,” said Timothy Morris, one of the petitioners and the Executive Director of Springfield Eugene Tenant Association. “All Eugene residents deserve to be able to live in healthy homes free from dangerous pollution. Overturning the electrification ordinance would limit tenants’ choices for safe and healthy homes.”
Oregon law (ORS 250.296) allows for expedited procedure for challenges to ballot titles that are “insufficient, not concise or unfair,” or otherwise fail to meet the requirements of state and city law. These cases are filed in the local county Circuit Court, and decided on a highly expedited basis, with no appeal.