A pipeline installation between farms, as seen from 50th Avenue in New Salem, North Dakota. Photo by Tony Webster/flickr

A pipeline installation between farms, as seen from 50th Avenue in New Salem, North Dakota. Photo by Tony Webster/flickr

King County Council approves fossil fuel moratorium

Six-month moratorium on new fossil fuel infrastructure was narrowly approved

King County has approved a moratorium on new fossil fuel infrastructure for six months, a move that environmental advocates say will help restrict possible pipelines from being built.

The ordinance was introduced by King County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove, who took a leading role in pushing for the moratorium over the past year after it was introduced by environmental advocacy group 350 Seattle. The moratorium will last for six months and freeze new fossil fuel infrastructure developments across unincorporated King County. It also kicks off a regulatory rewriting process designed to update the county’s land use code and permitting regulations to ban new major fossil fuel infrastructure permanently. Additionally, it requires the King County executive’s office to complete a study on the effects of new fossil fuel facilities in the county.

In particular, the ordinance will focus on changing land use zoning codes to block new bulk storage terminals and refinery or export projects. 350 Seattle hopes this will slow or stop fossil fuel infrastructure such as fracked gas pipelines and oil by rail. Activists packed the council chambers on Jan. 28, delivering impassioned pleas ahead of the vote along with statements from councilmembers.

“Reducing the pollution that causes climate change I think quite possibly is the greatest moral imperative facing my generation,” Upthegrove said during the nearly five-hour meeting.

The moratorium was an emergency action, requiring six votes to approve it. The moratorium was narrowly approved by a 6-3 vote, with councilmembers Kathy Lambert, Reagan Dunn, and Pete von Reichbauer voting against it. Councilmember Kathy Lambert previously told Seattle Weekly she had questions about how the county would meet its energy needs if new fossil fuel projects are blocked.

“What are the consequences of doing that, and how are you going to deal with the fact that you need that energy,” Lambert said in a phone interview last week.

Outside of the council, the moratorium has garnered support from other groups, including Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility, which published a 14-page paper urging the council to enact the ordinance.

Their main concerns, as outlined in the paper, dealt with trains or pipelines transporting oil and gas through the county along with coal. In particular, they were worried about a possible expansion related to the proposed methanol refinery in Kalama, which they said would use one-third of the state’s current gas consumption. This could overtax the current infrastructure and possibly lead to greater development on an existing pipeline corridor that passes through King County. In recent years, at least six proposals for new gas pipelines have been made.

Around 100 people signed up to testify at the lengthy meeting Jan. 28. Several councilmembers who voted for the ordinance said it was only a first step. Councilmember Claudia Balducci said residents should also put pressure on legislators in Olympia to pass climate change measures this session.

“We have to change how we live and we have to change how we live much faster than we are used to,” she said.

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