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Unanimous county council vote bans new refineries, fossil fuel facilities at Cherry Point

Elaine Thompson
The Associated Press
A ship is seen in the distance moored at the BP oil refinery in the Strait of Georgia just beyond Cherry Point in this file photo from 2012.

"No one got everything they wanted, but we have a very good compromise on the table. … Please pass this ordinance as amended July 13."

That was the mantra as speaker after speaker testified Tuesday night, with labor unions, refinery staff, community members and environmental groups all urging the Whatcom County Council to pass legislation that would determine the future of the 7,000-acre Cherry Point industrial zone. At times the statements echoed one another word for word. Almost no one voiced opposition.

And pass it did – with a unanimous vote. Now there’s a permanent ban in place on any new refineries, coal terminals, piers or other new fossil fuel infrastructure.

The ordinance also requires more rigorous environmental review if there are upgrade projects to existing refineries and terminals. All this in an area that boasts a deep-water port and potential access to lucrative markets in Asia.

The policy is the result of more than five years of work. Council Chair Barry Buchanan called it “historic” and praised the efforts of a "stakeholder group" that helped hammer out the 57-page document.

It's a lesson to other jurisdictions all across this country that you can work together, you can do things that are great for your community, both economically, environmentally, and it's just win, win, win, win,” he said.

KNKX environment reporter Bellamy Pailthorp sat down with All Things Considered host Ed Ronco to discuss Whatcom County's vote and why the negotiations are seen as a possible blueprint for other communities looking to transition to cleaner forms of industry.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to