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News / Opinion / Columns
The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

Local View: Vancouver, OK prohibition on large fossil-fuel facilities

By Heidi Cody, Cathryn Chudy, Monica Zazueta, Dan Serres, Rebecca Ponzio
Published: October 3, 2022, 6:01am

After years of community engagement in support of addressing the impacts of fossil fuel facilities, the city of Vancouver is poised to approve a strong ordinance that would prohibit new and expanded large-scale fossil fuel facilities.

These facilities can be fed by long trains carrying dangerous fuels, are most often located on liquefiable soils vulnerable in an earthquake, and pose major health, safety and spill risks. For these reasons, both city staff and our Planning Commission recommended that the city ban new and expanded large-scale fossil fuel terminals.

We are part of a local coalition that supports the draft ordinance, a significant effort by the city which centers community health, safety, and environmental justice. We urge the council to approve the ordinance today.

While ruling out expansion of existing large-scale fossil fuel storage and handling facilities, the proposed ordinance leaves important flexibility to address impacts from existing facilities. The ordinance would allow seismic retrofits, safety upgrades, and maintenance improvements at existing facilities, all located in the Fruit Valley neighborhood. The policy would allow existing facilities to convert to cleaner fuels.

As an incentive, facilities that convert to cleaner fuels would be allowed to expand storage by 15 percent if they meet safety and seismic upgrade standards and obtain a conditional use permit from the city.

City staff recommend that Vancouver require a conditional use permit — which involves public notice and a public hearing — for “cleaner” fuel facilities that store 60,000 gallons or more in Vancouver’s industrial areas, whether new facilities or expansions at existing facilities.

We strongly support this requirement for public engagement and a more robust evaluation of facilities, which can involve the storage of flammable, sometimes toxic, non-fossil fuels near the Columbia River and Vancouver neighborhoods. The staff’s proposed language allows community voices to review and shape these projects that would be located nearby, while allowing room for the city’s transition to cleaner energy.

The reasons to act are clear: people in Vancouver experience environmental health risks far too often, and these impacts disproportionately fall on Black, Indigenous and people of color, lower income, and otherwise marginalized communities. Vancouver needs better protections to lessen the harm of fossil fuel pollution on citizens who already bear the brunt of fossil fuel pollution. According to the Washington Department of Health, some areas of Vancouver are among the worst in the state for environmental health disparities, including smog exposure and other hazards associated with fossil fuel use.

In making its decision, we urge the Vancouver City Council to stand firm to protect the health and safety of its residents by resisting industry pressure to water down the prohibition on large-scale fossil fuel facilities. Terminal operators would also like to limit the community’s voice in new energy projects. These changes would undermine the health and safety goals of the proposed ordinance. City council should reject such changes, in favor of the staff’s recommendation.

The Columbian’s Editorial Board neatly summarized the importance of the fossil fuel ordinance in August: “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.”

We couldn’t agree more. The ordinance deserves unanimous support as currently written.

This op-ed was submitted by: Heidi Cody, Alliance for Community Engagement; Cathryn Chudy, Sierra Club Loo Wit; Monica Zazueta, League of United Latin American Citizens, Sunrise SWWA; Dan Serres, Conservation Director, Columbia Riverkeeper; Rebecca Ponzio, Climate and Fossil Fuel Program Director, Washington Environmental Council/Washington Conservation Voters.