SOCAN Comments to Ashland City Council on the Climate and Clean Air Package

Alan R.P. Journet Ph.D.
Southern Oregon Climate Action Now
May 18th 2024



Mayor Tonya Graham
Members of the Ashland City Council
Councilors Bloom, Dahle, DuQuenne, Hansen, Hyatt, Kaplan
Ashland, OR 97520

Reference: May 21 Agenda Item: Climate: Natural Gas Ordinance Options/Discussion

Mayor Graham and members of the Ashland City Council:

I write as cofacilitator of Southern Oregon Climate Action Now, an organization of some 2,000 Southern Oregonians, many of whom live in Ashland, who are concerned about the climate crisis and seek local, state and federal action to address it. It is this context that serves as the impetus for my writing today to express the support of SOCAN for the efforts of the youth-based Rogue Climate Action Team (RCAT) as they seek an ordinance that, among other things, limits the incorporation of toxic climate pollution from new construction.

I offer this testimony because, regrettably, I have two other scheduled meetings which make me unable to attend the May 21st council meeting.

As the Council Agenda notes remind us, in 2017 the Ashland City Council endorsed the citizen-developed Climate and Energy Action Plan. As these notes further state, Residential energy “covers 13% of citywide emission[s] and 27% of the emission[s] where we can make improvements most easily.” Since the city is faltering in keeping up with the goals identified in the CEAP, it seems reasonable to address one of the elements that “can make improvements most easily…” Given the health benefits that would accrue from minimizing the use of the fuel commonly and unfortunately known as ‘natural gas’ we fully endorse the goals of the Rogue Climate Action Team and encourage the council to direct staff to develop an ordinance achieving the goals of the Climate and Clan Air Policy Package by the June 19th Study Session.

As an aside, I stress that contrary to the claims of some opponents, nothing in this proposal would deprive Ashland residents who currently own gas appliances from keeping them.

In support of this endorsement, I offer the following comments:

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” famously comes from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Of course, by the same token ‘poop by any other name would smell as bad.’ No amount of marketing will convince us that a pile of poop is really a rose bed; most of us can discern reality.

Unfortunately, not everything is so easily identified as positive or negative as roses and poop. Indeed, a massive marketing campaign can convince many of us that something that is unhealthy and negative is really healthy and positive. This has happened with tobacco and fossil fuels where marketing is very successful. In the case of the fuel commonly known as ‘natural gas’ which would more accurately be labeled ‘methane pollution,’ marketing has, indeed, convinced many of its benefits.

Fortunately, we have a ready solution to this dilemma. HB2021, passed the Oregon Legislature in 2021, requires that electricity sold in the state will be 100% generated from non-polluting fuels by 2040. This means electricity must become cleaner and cleaner as the years pass, and we have the technology to achieve this goal. Methane pollution, on the other hand, will never become clean. The failure of the methane utilities to develop Integrated Resource Plans that suggest they can meet the targets of HB2021 were among the reasons their Integrated Resource Plans were rejected by the Public Utilities Commission, the state agency designated to monitor and regulate these utilities.

Furthermore, on a domestic level, we can protect ourselves from the health risks of methane pollution by converting to electricity to drive our appliances. Contrary to the claims of many developers and methane utilities, homes built to rely only on electricity rather than adding gas, are cheaper to build and cheaper to operate. For those who find the rapid heat of gas cooktops attractive, it’s worth noting that induction cooktops are equally as rapid and much easier to clean. To those who argue that they need gas to survive power outages, it’s worth remembering that many gas appliances, especially older models, require electricity to start, and the fans that clear the air-borne toxins also require electricity. Also, note that electric appliances, such as heat pumps, are generally much more efficient and so use less energy.

By replacing methane appliances with electric appliances, we can produce a healthier environment for our family and reduce our contribution to global warming, a win –  win solution.

The problem is that natural gas is mostly methane, a gas which is (a) toxic, and (b) a substantial contributor to global warming.

While we have learned of the toxic properties of the gas relatively recently, they are becoming better understood. Health risks include cardiovascular, respiratory and neurological problems, cancer, plus the development of epilepsy, pneumonia, claustrophobia, heart problems, memory loss and depression. Additionally, the gas and its pollutants damage airways, aggravate lung diseases, cause asthma attacks and increase risk of preterm birth and cardiovascular morbidity and mortality and stroke risk.

In terms of the global warming / climate change impacts of methane, we now know that it’s over 80 times worse as a global warming gas than carbon dioxide. We understand that methane is more efficient at generating electricity than coal or oil and thus, when burned to generate electricity, releases far less carbon dioxide than the other fossil fuels per unit of energy produced. Unfortunately, this advantage is undermined by the fact that throughout the extraction/processing and transmission route into our homes, methane leaks at such a rate that in many situations, the combustion advantage is completely negated. The gas can be as bad as coal.

For many years, gas utilities touted their fuel as ‘the clean fossil fuel.’ More recently, in recognition of the leakage identified above, they have modified this claim to ‘the clean-burning fossil fuel.’ Though this statement is accurate, it represents a continuation of the previous disinformation marketing ploy based on the notion that few potential customers will understand the downside discussed above.

Our problem is that, this fuel is a health hazard to those occupying buildings that use it, and currently contributes over 30% to the global warming that is threatening our natural ecosystems and all life on the planet.

Respectfully submitted

Alan R.P. Journet Ph.D.
Cofacilitator Southern Oregon Climate Action Now
7113 Griffin Lane
Jacksonville OR 97530-9342

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