PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — In early February, Eugene became the first city in Oregon to ban gas hook-ups in new buildings. Now, climate activists are saying NW Natural gas company has formed a “front group” that opposes the ordinance.

Eugene City Council voted in favor of the ordinance that prohibits fossil fuel infrastructure in new, low-rise residential buildings on Feb. 6, 2023. Just three days later, an organization called Eugene Residents for Energy Choice was established.

According to its website, the petition committee was formed because the Eugene City Council chose to ignore Eugeneans’ opinions on the gas ban instead of putting it to a public vote. Eugene Residents for Energy Choice says its next plan of action is to gather more than 6,000 signatures by March 9, so the fossil fuel measure can be added to the ballot during the November election.

However, climate justice advocacy nonprofit Breach Collective isn’t so sure that Eugene residents are behind the new group.

A release from the nonprofit organization cited EREC’s current funding, which is a $51,401.31 in-kind contribution from NW Natural. The contribution was made on Feb. 10, one day after the Oregon Elections System for Tracking and Reporting says the Eugene petition committee was formed. The organization’s P.O. is also based in Portland, not Eugene.

NW Natural denies creating the “front group,” as Breach Collective has called it. The corporation’s senior director of communications, David Roy, says NW Natural follows Oregon’s rules and guidelines for how political campaigns should operate.

“As we have told our customers, the public and media outlets, NW Natural is providing financial contributions to the campaign, which is a separate entity that has independent decision-making authority,” Roy said. “The campaign is addressing an issue that matters to us and the communities we serve.”

He added that the company’s donation to the campaign was not paid for by NW Natural customers.

Even so, the Breach Collective and members from other climate-focused groups including Sierra Club, Cascadia Wildlands, Fossil Free Eugene Coalition believe that EREC is a part of NW Natural’s “astroturf campaign.”

In a release, the collective cited stories from local and national outlets that reported on some of the corporation’s practices, such as a “misinformation campaign about natural gas” and hiring a toxicologist to speak on “studies linking gas stoves to childhood asthma.”

“NW Natural has a long record of deception and dishonesty in Eugene and across the States of Oregon and Washington,” Sierra Club Senior Campaign Representative Dylan Plummer said. “Apparently advertising to children and science denial weren’t enough, so now we have a fossil fuel corporation spending untold amounts of money to pose as an organization of Eugene residents to keep our city hooked on polluting methane gas.”