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Tacoma City Council considering amendments to proposed ban on expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure

The 8 million-gallon containment tank is seen from a distance on Tacoma's tideflats at the site of a liquefied natural gas plant currently under construction.
Parker Miles Blohm
/
KNKX
The 8 million-gallon containment tank is seen from a distance on Tacoma's tideflats at the site of a liquefied natural gas plant under construction in 2019.

Tacoma famously declared a climate emergency two years ago. It came the same day the Puyallup Tribe made an emergency declaration of its own – all aiming to restrict fossil fuel developments in the tideflats and the port at the heart of the city.

But Tacoma’s city council is stuck in a holding pattern. A public hearing Tuesday at 5:15 p.m. will provide feedback on eight amendments to a proposed ban on all expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure.

Daniel Villa plans to testify. He’s a volunteer with the climate action group 350 Tacoma and has built an oversized pair of spectacles his group has carried through the streets of the city to call attention to “shortsightedness.” They also dress up as concerned optometrists and “offer a prescription” to passersby, distributing flyers that resemble eye charts, calling for the ban.

He says Whatcom County just set a great precedent. He wants his city to follow suit.

“They even have more fossil fuel infrastructure up there, their refineries are larger,” Villa says. “So if they're able to do it, I don't see why we here in Tacoma can't do it. Our refinery isn't that big compared to theirs. And the community has been asking for this for four years.”

The refinery handles jet fuel for Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Also located in the tideflats is Puget Sound Energy’s controversial new liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant.

The so-called "non-interim regulations" under consideration will restrict what can be built in the tideflats at the heart of Tacoma, where the Port is located. City Councilman Conor McCarthy chairs the Infrastructure, Planning and Sustainability Commission — which is backing eight amendments to the new regulations. He says without them, fossil fuel facilities in Tacoma can expand in unlimited capacity.

What's being proposed would prohibit that,” McCarthy says. “What's authorized is clean fuel projects and understanding that some clean fuel projects require a petroleum product component.”

He says the amendments acknowledge that and put a limit on the amount of petroleum product components that can be put into clean fuel projects.

Those products include things like propane and natural gas, which many environmental groups oppose.

Puget Sound Energy says its liquefied natural gas plant is necessary, not just to provide a cleaner alternative to dirty bunker fuel used by Tote Maritime and potentially other ships, but also as a source of heating fuel for its growing customer base in winter.

At the same time, local jurisdictions such as Seattle are working to transition home heating and cooking away from natural gas. They want people to instead use clean electricity from hydropower, wind and solar, to help reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change. And Washington Gov. Jay Inslee changed his mind about liquefied natural gas in May 2019, saying he no longer sees it as an improvement over petroleum products or “bridge fuel.”

The community group Citizens for a Healthy Bay and several others hosted an online workshop Monday evening to help people understand the proposed code changes that the Tacoma City Council is proposing and to coach residents who want to make public comments.

A vote by the council is expected toward the end of the month.

Corrected: October 6, 2021 at 11:15 AM PDT
This story has been edited to reflect that the Puyallup Tribe's emergency declaration came before the Tacoma City Council's.
Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment beat for KNKX, where she has worked since 1999. From 2000-2012, she covered the business and labor beat. Bellamy has a deep interest in Indigenous affairs and the Salish Sea. She has a masters in journalism from Columbia University.
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