The Vancouver City Council hosted its first citizen forum in months Monday, with a barrage of speakers calling in to participate in the remote discussion.
Most callers had positive things to say. Of the 33 people who spoke at the 90-minute session, 24 had called in to offer accolades to the council for its unanimous approval of a temporary halt on new fossil fuel infrastructure.
“I am so proud of our city council for taking that step,” said Jean Avery, one of the people who called in on Monday to participate in the first citizen forum held since the COVID-19 outbreak started.
“We all know that we are struggling right now with so many major issues — the pandemic, the protests,” Avery continued. “I think we can look at this as an opportunity to invigorate the economy right now.”
Fossil fuels are a dying industry, emphasized Deborah Carol, another participant in the forum.
“It will be the local jurisdictions and community members who will bear the brunt of the negative impacts, and therefore it must be up to us to reject them,” Carol said. “Our children will not forgive us for our continued inability to envision a cleaner, safer, greener world, and act upon that and upon the science and knowledge that fossil fuels poison our world.”
Most of the callers who praised the moratorium also called on the city council to turn the six-month freeze into a permanent ban.
Citizen forums are open discussions with the city’s elected officials, and participants can speak to any topic of their choice for up to three minutes. It was the first such unbound forum since March 9, and 11 additional registered participants were turned away due to time constraints or technical difficulties.
During normal times, a city council forum would usually include testimony from a handful of residents.
Fossil fuel moratorium
Last month, the Vancouver City Council passed an ordinance that placed a six-month ban on all new large-scale fossil fuel projects within city limits, including expansions to existing facilities.
The document defined fossil fuels as petroleum, petroleum products and natural gases, and identified a “large-scale” facility as any facility engaged in wholesale distribution, extraction, refinement, shipping, burning, processing or storage of fossil fuels.
It specifically exempted plants that deal in fossil fuel by-products — producers of materials like asphalt, fertilizers, plastics, paints and denatured ethanol. The ordinance also included an exception for direct-to-consumer fossil fuel facilities, like gas stations.
The freeze passed unanimously on June 8 and will remain in place for six months, at which point the city council will reassess the policy. A public hearing on the moratorium, required by law to occur within 60 days of the initial vote, is on the agenda for the upcoming city council meeting on Monday.
History of activism
Vancouver has a history of activism pushing back against new fossil fuel infrastructure. In 2018, loud and sustained public protest of a proposed rail-to-marine oil terminal at the Port of Vancouver culminated in the termination of the project, five years after exploratory work had begun. The protesters’ efforts were bolstered by the election of two environmentally minded port commissioners, in 2015 and 2017.
One of those commissioners, Don Orange, was among the participants in Monday’s citizen forum.
“The COVID crisis that we are in, I believe, is the dress rehearsal for the climate crisis,” Orange said. “I think that if COVID tells us anything, the laws of science are absolute.”