BELLINGHAM — The Whatcom County Council has temporarily banned new permit applications for projects that ship crude oil and other unrefined fossil fuels out of Cherry Point.
The 60-day moratorium unanimously approved Tuesday night prevents shipments or exports of fuels such as methane, coal or crude oil from tar sands not processed in that industrial zone north of Bellingham.
The council says the emergency measure is needed to protect public health and safety, while the county weighs land-use changes at Cherry Point that could restrict future crude oil and other fossil fuel exports.
In its ordinance, the council cited the dangers of increased shipments of crude oil by train and pipeline through the area and the need to prevent new permit applications while changes are considered. The moratorium, however, wouldn’t affect current shipments or projects.
Cherry Point, located on Puget Sound with access to deep waters for shipping, is the site of an aluminum smelter and two oil refineries. In recent years, BP and Phillips 66 have expanded their facilities to accept crude oil shipments by train.
In May, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied a permit for a $700 million project to build the nation’s largest coal-export terminal at Cherry Point. The Lummi tribe successfully argued the project would interfere with its treaty-protected fishing rights. The terminal would have handled up to 54 million metric tons of dry bulk commodities, mostly coal, at Cherry Point for export to Asia.
Supporters applauded Tuesday’s move, saying it will protect the public from dangerous fuel shipments. Meanwhile, others say potential changes to the industrial zone could hurt jobs and economic development.
Other cities in Washington have taken aim at crude oil and other shipments.
Last month, the Spokane City Council decided to ask voters in November whether the city should prohibit the shipment of crude oil or coal by rail. The ballot measure, if approved, would make rail shipments of crude oil or coal a civil infraction, punishable by a fine of up to $261 per tank car.
Vancouver in Southwest Washington also voted to ban new or expanded crude oil storage facilities. That decision, however, won’t affect a massive crude-by-rail facility currently proposed at the city’s port.