It’s Thursday, July 29, and a county in Washington state just banned new fossil fuel infrastructure.

All over the country, cities, counties, and states are grappling with how to shrink the use of fossil fuels and halt the development of new fossil fuel projects in their communities. Some states have banned coal, others have banned fracking, one community in California banned new gas stations, and many others have changed their building codes to ban or discourage gas hookups in new homes. And this week, a community in coastal Washington took an entirely new step.

Whatcom County, about 100 miles north of Seattle, was once poised to become a major new gateway for fuel exports to Asia. But on Tuesday, after six years of debate, the county council voted to change its land use laws to prohibit new oil refineries, coal-fired power plants, and facilities related to the transport of fossil fuels. 

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In addition to banning new fossil fuel infrastructure, the ordinance sets up more stringent rules for existing facilities, such as the county’s two large oil refineries, if they seek to expand. Expansions will be subject to more rigorous environmental review, including an analysis of the impacts of any increase in greenhouse gas emissions. 

After years of engagement with stakeholders, the county’s new rules are supported not only by local environmental groups, but also by the oil industry and labor unions.

“I think what we have are rules that the industry doesn’t want, but the regulatory clarity they do want, and enough participation in the process that it’s going to be hard for them to take legal action,” Matt Krogh, a campaign director for Stand.earth, an environmental group that pushed for the ordinance, told Inside Climate News.

Emily Pontecorvo

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