Vancouver City Council members were wise to extend the city’s moratorium on fossil-fuel infrastructure. But questions remain about officials’ long-range plans for fighting climate change.
On Monday, councilors unanimously approved an extension of the ban, which was first implemented in 2020. Under the moratorium, new facilities that distribute, extract, refine or process fossil fuels are prohibited. Facilities and services that produce energy from landfill gas and fossil-fuel byproducts, as well as gas stations, rail yards, airports and marine services, are not impacted.
The moratorium can be passed for six months at a time, with the new extension lasting until mid-2022. In addition to expressed support from members of the public, the suspension is backed by the Port of Vancouver. Mike Bomar, the port’s director of economic development, said officials are working to provide certainty for tenants and customers: “We can continue to move our economy forward while leading together on climate initiatives.”
Southwest Washington has demonstrated strong leadership in reducing the impact of fossil fuels, which are known to be a primary cause of climate change. A proposal for an oil terminal at the port was rejected in 2018, in part because of strong public opposition. Other proposed oil terminals and coal terminals in the state also have been rejected.
Meanwhile, the Port of Vancouver has become a hub for importing wind-turbine components, adding to Washington’s status as a leader in the burgeoning wind-energy industry.
In addition to contributing to global efforts for reducing the burning of fossil fuels, the region’s stance is beneficial to the health of local residents and the zeitgeist of the area. Oil infrastructure has been shown to increase asthma and other health issues among nearby residents. As researchers wrote for U.S. News this year, “In some cases, the impact on residents’ lungs is worse than living beside a highway or being exposed to secondhand smoke every day.”
Rejecting fossil-fuel projects also reinforces the environmentally conscientious beliefs of Northwest residents. Becoming known as a region that is welcoming to the oil or coal industries would run counter to the spirit of the region.
While extending the moratorium was an easy decision for councilors, city officials continue to develop a comprehensive Climate Action Plan. As The Columbian reported: “The effort supports an overarching goal to change zoning codes that would implement similar limitations on fossil-fuel facilities defined in the moratorium. City staff will spend the allotted time ensuring the new codes are legally defensible.”
Officials are considering different timelines to put the city on track for carbon neutrality by 2040, 2045 or 2050. As City Councilor Linda Glover said in July: “It seems like our environment is changing so quickly, and that global warming is coming at us so fast. … Now I feel like, ‘Let’s just shoot for it and work as hard as we can to get there.’ ”
The city is not expected to pass a climate plan until next year. But consultants have presented a variety of recommendations: Changes in the building and transportation sectors, including investment in renewable energy for municipal buildings; subsidizing home weatherization and enacting energy-efficient retrofits for low-income households; and a citywide plan for electric-vehicle charging infrastructure.
Extending a ban on new fossil-fuel infrastructure is a reasonable step, but it is a small one in the long journey to turn back climate change.