Vancouver City Council votes to continue temporary ban on bulk fossil fuel facilities

The moratorium will be in place through the end of the year

VANCOUVER — The city of Vancouver will continue its six-month moratorium on new bulk fossil fuel facilities after a unanimous vote on Monday.

That decision was preceded by nearly two hours of public testimony, during which only one citizen spoke out in opposition to the temporary ban.

“The city’s moratorium will just turn away businesses and make the area’s housing all that much more expensive,” said Vancouver resident Ann Donnelly.

An oil train sits at the BNSF rail yard in west Vancouver. File photo by Mike Schultz
An oil train sits at the BNSF rail yard in west Vancouver. File photo by Mike Schultz

Others disagreed, with many saying businesses that work with fossil fuels contribute to a growing climate change problem, and disproportionately impact minority communities.

“For the health of all Vancouverites, the moratorium must remain in effect,” said Ryan Welch, president of the Skyview High School chapter of the iTUNA (International Teens Upholding Nature Association) Environmental Fund. “We would be much better off investing in green infrastructure, both from a public health perspective and an economic perspective.”

“As one of the largest cities in Washington, our actions will help send a signal to other cities that it’s time to take serious climate action,” said Olivia DesRochers, a 14-year-old from Ridgefield.

The moratorium was initially approved on June 8, by emergency ordinance, which required the council to hold a public hearing and a full vote within 60 days in order to uphold the ban.

That ordinance was introduced by Councilor Laurie Lebowsy, who said she wanted to give city staff time to craft a cohesive resilience plan without any new companies trying to obtain permits for a bulk fossil fuel business ahead of any changes.

“I want to do what we can to support a resiliency plan to promote safety and livability of our city,” said Lebowsky, “and focusing economic development on safe and renewable energy sources and green businesses.”

Under the moratorium, fossil fuels are defined as petroleum or petroleum-based products, as well as natural gases such as propane, methan, and butane. It would exempt byproducts such as fertilizer, paint, asphalt, plastics, and denatured ethanol.

A “large-scale” fossil fuel facility is defined as those engaged in the wholesale distribution, extraction, refinement or processing of fossil fuels, the bulk movement of fossil fuels, coal storage, coal power plants, natural gas processing facilities, storage and handling of natural gas, or bulk storage of more than two million gallons of any combination of fossil fuels.

Direct-to-consumer fossil fuel businesses, such as gas stations and propane refueling are exempt from the moratorium.

Kathryn Williams, vice president of public affairs and sustainability for Northwest Natural Gas said the company was not actively opposed to the ban.

“We share the city’s desire to plan for and build a resilient community, and safety is one of our core values,” she said, but added that the company is working to roll out renewable natural gasses, which are often blended with carbon-based fossil fuels during the switchover, so they were requesting that renewable energy from all sources be explicitly excluded.

“We ask that the city avoid language that would hinder investments in renewables, in light of this practical reality,” Williams said.

The council did not address the concerns of Northwest Natural, which serves 80,000 people in Clark County, but did say that there was room to address those nuances as staff drafted their updated strategic plan.

The city of Portland and the Port of Vancouver have already passed their own bans on new bulk fossil fuel terminals, and the city of Vancouver has taken a stance against increasing shipments of bulk crude on trains that run along the waterfront and through the west side of the city.

Several of the people who spoke out during Monday’s meeting, and as part of dozens of people who commented during a citizens forum the week before, are students in the area. Many of them expressed concerns about their future, in a world where CO2 emissions from the burning of fossil fuels is seen as a major contributor to global climate change.