The overriding question for local leaders is, “What kind of community do we want?” City and county governments play a large role in answering that question, having more influence on local life than the person occupying the White House or the party in control of Congress.
With the Vancouver City Council considering a ban on new fossil fuel facilities, it should be clear that our community does not desire to be a hub for terminals handling large quantities of oil or coal or natural gas. The environmental degradation and the health risks that are inherent in such facilities belie our vision for a clean community that reflects and protects the beauty of our region.
In 2020, the city of Vancouver enacted a moratorium on new fossil fuel facilities. The latest iteration of that moratorium — which does not apply to new gas stations — is scheduled to expire Nov. 8. Making the ban permanent would set a course for the future, definitively saying that local residents do not want their city to be known for fossil fuel infrastructure.
Such a move has precedence. Last year, Whatcom County in Northwest Washington banned the construction of new refineries, coal-fired power plants and other fossil fuel-related infrastructure, becoming the first county in the nation to do so.
As one county council member said at the time: “There will be no new refineries, they won’t be able to get permits to export their product and while we will still have these dinosaur facilities already here it will be more challenging for them to expand. The future is clearly in renewable energy.”
This was not merely a symbolic gesture from a region unfamiliar with fossil fuel infrastructure. Whatcom County long has been a hub for the petroleum industry, and two of Washington’s five oil refineries are in the county —including the state’s largest, at Cherry Point.
Vancouver is not likely to become the home for a new refinery, but a proposed oil transfer terminal at the Port of Vancouver brought the issue to the forefront in the past decade. That proposal was scuttled in 2018 after several years of rancorous debate.
While city council members would be wise to pass a permanent ban on such facilities, there are questions that must be answered.
One involves gas prices, which have been top of mind for consumers this year. Even as we move toward clean energy, the truth is that oil drives our economy and our way of life; it must come from somewhere. But the last major oil refinery in the United States was built in 1977, casting doubt on the claim that there is a need for increased capacity.
Another question involves what kind of signal a ban would send to other industries. But rather than suggesting Vancouver is not welcoming to industry, the message would be clear: The city is inviting to clean-energy industries and to businesses that enhance our natural beauty rather than detract from it. The Waterfront Vancouver development is a prime example — and one that might not be here if an oil terminal had been approved. There is economic opportunity in clean energy, and Vancouver should seize it.
Over the past three decades, Vancouver has effectively reinvented itself. The downtown core, once dominated by a brewery and heavy industry, has been transformed and has been well-positioned for the future.
Prohibiting new fossil fuel infrastructure at a time when our nation must move toward clean energy is a logical next step. It would reflect the kind of community we wish to have.