News: Over 1,000 Multnomah County Residents Urge the County to Pass Policy To Protect Health and Electrify Buildings

For Immediate Release:
September 22, 2022

Over 1,000 Multnomah County Residents Urge the County to Pass Policy
To Protect Health and Electrify Buildings

Advocates deliver petition and provide testimony urging Multnomah County to become the first public health authority in the US to take a proactive stand against harmful methane infrastructure 

Portland, OR – Today, public health professionals, Multnomah County residents, youth activists, and community organizations delivered a petition with more than 1,000 signatures urging Multnomah County officials to ensure that new homes and commercial buildings are built all-electric, and to plan a just transition away from polluting and dangerous fossil fuel infrastructure in existing buildings. The petition cites the growing body of research that demonstrates the significant impacts to indoor and outdoor air quality, and to public health broadly, from burning methane gas in buildings. 

In testimony presented at today’s board meeting, Dr. Erika Mosesen, MD, MA, pulmonologist at Legacy Health Systems, said that methane inside the home “releases nitrogen dioxide into the home which can damage lungs and is especially dangerous for children, the elderly, and other vulnerable individuals.” Mosesen was one of eight community members who gave personal testimony to the Board this morning. 

Ann Turner, M.D., said,

“When the very conservative American Medical Association passes a resolution “Informing Physicians, health care professionals, and the public that cooking with a gas stove increases household air pollution and the risk of childhood asthma,” it is time to act. It is time for our local, state and national health authorities to implement policies that make a just transition to eliminate gas from our homes and buildings to improve our health.”

Theodora Tsongas, Ph.D., M.S., said:

“Reducing dependence on gas by replacing it with electricity generated by clean, safe, sustainable sources: wind and solar, also has health benefits in reducing the worst impacts of climate disruption that we are already seeing today… that will only worsen the longer we delay changing to sustainable solutions. Your work to eliminate methane gas infrastructure will aid our community’s climate adaptation significantly.”

Community members who testified urged strong regulatory action due to the extreme and disproportionate health and safety risks associated with natural gas from the site of extraction, through transport, and where combusted; the rapidly growing evidence of the alarming health and safety risks of indoor gas usage and the efforts of the natural gas industry to hide, downplay, obfuscate, and deny these risks; disproportionate effects of indoor gas pollution on marginalized communities; and the vulnerability of gas infrastructure to expected significant seismic events and the threat this poses to Multnomah County’s residents. 

This effort comes as just this week, a new report found that gas appliances in California homes and buildings generate four times more NOx pollution than California’s gas power plants and nearly two-thirds as much NOx as California’s 16 million passenger cars. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) is set to vote later this week on a policy to phase out the sale of gas appliances by 2030 to reduce air pollution.

Liam Castles, recent graduate of Cleveland High School and Organizer with Portland Youth Climate Strike, said:

“As someone who will grow up in the world we create today, I am terrified for my future. The blame for the smoke we’ve begun to see every summer, the extreme heat and evacuation orders and drought, and the asthma and other health effects of burning fossil fuels falls squarely on the shoulders of companies like Northwest Natural, and the officials who enable them.” 

Dineen O’Rourke, Campaign Manager with 350PDX, said:

“Today, it’s been made clear that the people of Multnomah County are ready for our commissioners to take bold leadership to protect our public health, clean air, and our climate. New buildings that are hooked up to gas must be seen for what they are: new fossil fuel infrastructure that locks us into dirty and polluting energy for decades to come. Electrification is a solution that can create a just transition to homes and buildings that are safer, healthier, and more resilient, and powered by clean energy. The ball is now in your court, Multnomah County – listen to the people you represent and pass a resolution to reign in the gas industry.”

Josie Moberg, Legal Fellow with Breach Collective, said:

“Contrary to NW Natural’s claims to county residents and city officials, electrification is the lowest-cost method to decarbonize buildings, increase efficiency, and protect families and communities from the hazards presented by energy infrastructure. We don’t have time to keep entertaining fossil fuel companies’ PR campaigns or delaying necessary action to benefit their shareholders. Our communities have the dedication and resources to make this desperately needed change if you have the courage to lead us into that better tomorrow.”

Brian Stewart, Co-Founder of Electrify Now said:

“All electric buildings are better performing buildings in every way.  They are safer, healthier, more comfortable, lower cost to build and lower cost to operate.”

Local governments across Oregon are beginning to take action to regulate the expansion of gas infrastructure, and begin transitioning new and existing buildings to 100% clean electricity. In Eugene, the City Council is exploring ordinances to require that all new buildings be constructed all-electric, and setting targets to retrofit existing buildings to be electric by 2035. Milwaukie is considering similar resolutions, with an upcoming discussion and possible vote scheduled for November. This is part of a national trend, with major cities including New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Washington D.C. all passing building electrification policy in the past few years.

Nick Caleb, Climate and Energy Attorney with Breach Collective, said:

“Cities and counties are saying no to new gas infrastructure because of the myriad health, safety, and climate risks that this fuel poses. We urge the Commission to go beyond their existing commitments on public buildings to prohibit new gas infrastructure in all buildings in Multnomah County, and to work with community organizations and residents to plot an actionable path for transitioning all existing gas infrastructure to clean energy sources and appliances.”

Recently, activists in Oregon have increased pressure on NW Natural, demanding they halt advertising campaigns that mislead the public about the dangers of methane. This past May, the Portland Youth Climate Strike organized to draw a line in the sand between those fighting for climate justice and local “climate villains” who are most responsible for causing climate chaos—NW Natural, Zenith Energy, Portland Business Alliance, and ODOT. In August, more than 30 organizations submitted a letter to the Oregon Department of Justice demanding an investigation into NW Natural’s cynical advertising campaigns, which includes a children’s workbook intended to greenwash the harmful effects of methane. 

Watch a recording of the hearing on Multnomah County’s Youtube channel here.