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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

Vancouver’s freeze on fossil fuel sites extended

Hold on new infrastructure to stay in place for 6 more months

By Calley Hair, Columbian staff writer
Published: December 11, 2020, 6:00am

A freeze on all new fossil fuel infrastructure in Vancouver will remain in place for another six months as city leaders work toward implementing a more permanent policy.

The Vancouver City Council unanimously voted to extend the moratorium at its regular city council meeting Monday. Their decision drew widespread approval from more than two dozen people who called into the remote public forum.

“A precedent is being set here today, a precedent that will dictate my and countless others’ futures,” said one of the callers, 16-year-old Jonah Kropp. “Change starts at the local level.”

Kropp was one of several local teenagers to champion a ban on new facilities that produce, emit or store fossil fuels within Vancouver city limits. Another, high school senior Megan Sarkissian, called extending the moratorium “a great step toward mitigating the damage of 2020.”

“Only a few months ago, the Pacific Northwest experienced intense forest fires as a result of climate change,” Sarkissian said. “Climate change is real and tangible, and it’s striking right now, when so many lives are already on the line because of the pandemic.”

Vancouver had first implemented the six-month freeze on new large-scale fossil fuel infrastructure in June, in a vote that took much of the community – and half of the city council, who hadn’t known the item would appear on the agenda until the very last minute – by surprise. The council reaffirmed its decision after a public hearing held a month later.

Under the moratorium, fossil fuels are defined as petroleum, petroleum products and natural gases including propane, butane and methane. The ordinance also specifies that a “large-scale” facility encompasses any involved in wholesale distribution, extraction, refinement, storage, burning or processing of fossil fuels. It additionally includes terminals engaged in bulk shipping of fossil fuels.

The document also details specific exemptions to the ban. Facilities that handle fossil fuel byproducts like asphalt, fertilizers, plastics, paints and denatured ethanol aren’t impacted. Neither are direct-to-consumer fossil fuel facilities, like gas stations.

Existing fossil fuel facilities can also perform regular repairs and maintenance without running afoul of the moratorium, though significant expansions are banned, at least for the next six months.

Vancouver has a history of pushing back against new large-scale fossil fuel projects, most notably in 2018, when a sustained campaign of public pressure ultimately killed a project that would have installed a rail-to-marine crude oil terminal at the Port of Vancouver.

According to Aaron Lande, Vancouver’s senior policy analyst, city staff will use the next six months to continue its work developing a long-term strategy for dealing with fossil fuel producers. He plans a presentation to the city’s planning commission in late February, he said, and will examine similar policies adopted by other cities in the Pacific Northwest.

“I anticipate we’ll be back with some additional draft language to you later in the spring,” Lande said.

Councilor Sarah Fox said she’s looking forward to taking more concrete, permanent action on the issue.

“Tonight’s testimony was very much weighted on everyone being very happy about a moratorium, but a moratorium is just a hold. I would imagine what more people are actually meaning, they’re hoping that we’ll approve an outright ban or prohibition on this use,” Fox said.

Columbian staff writer