Baltimore Set to Ban Crude Oil Infrastructure

On March 12, 2018, the Baltimore City Council voted to approve Council Bill 17-0150, which, if signed by the Mayor, will amend the city’s zoning code to prohibit new and expanded crude oil terminals. Community, justice, and environmental advocates have been organizing around the prohibition after years of fighting crude oil trains in the city.

“We commend the Baltimore City Council for taking this commonsense step to protect Baltimore residents from exploding crude oil trains and rising seas. Given her outspoken leadership on the need to uphold the Paris Climate Accords, we hope and expect Mayor Catherine Pugh will approve the ban,” said Jennifer Kunze, an organizer with Clean Water Action.

Importantly, this action mirrors a strategy first adopted in Portland, Oregon in November of 2015, when the Portland City Council voted unanimously to oppose the expansion of new fossil fuel infrastructure. In December of 2016, the council unanimously voted to amend its zoning code to prohibit all new and expanded bulk fossil fuel infrastructure through its “Fossil Fuel Terminal Zoning Amendments”. After the oil industry and local commerce organizations challenged the new code in court, the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled that Portland’s code did not violate the US Constitution and that local governments have a legitimate interest in protecting themselves from the dangers of the fossil fuel industry.

“The most immediate and direct action we can take to protect climate, environmental, and human health is to prohibit new fossil fuel infrastructure,” said Nicholas Caleb, Staff Attorney at the Center for Sustainable Economy. “Since the federal government is failing to protect us,  local governments are stepping up to lead the way. A network of local governments refusing to allow the expansion of the fossil fuel economy while mobilizing toward a just transition to 100% renewable energy is what our historical moment demands.”

“This victory in Baltimore is yet another blow to the oil industry,” said Taylor Smith-Hams, Healthy Communities Campaign Organizer with CCAN Action Fund.  “Whether it’s on climate grounds or health and safety grounds, we know the risks that crude oil extraction and transport pose to local communities are unacceptable and must be challenged.”

“This is about environmental justice – it’s not safe or fair for  Baltimore families to have to live in fear of being in a blast zone, should one of these crude oil trains derail,” said Leah Kelly, attorney for the Environmental Integrity Project.”

Other cities on the West Coast that have restricted fossil fuel infrastructure include:

  • Oakland, CA (coal)
  • Vancouver, WA (crude oil)
  • Whatcom County, WA (moratorium on unrefined fossil fuels)
  • Seattle, WA (resolution opposing all new fossil fuel infrastructure)
  • Tacoma, WA (interim regulations prohibiting all new fossil fuel infrastructure)

Oakland, CA – Ordinance No. 13385 (July 2016), led to “a Citywide ban on the storage, loading, unloading, stockpiling transloading and handling of coal and coke” based on health and safety concerns associated with coal. The ordinance is currently being challenged in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California in Oakland Bulk & Oversized Terminal, LLC v. City of Oakland, No. 16-cv-017014-VC.

Vancouver, WA – In July 2016, Vancouver City Council voted 7-0 to prohibit crude oil storage, handling, and refining facilities in Vancouver’s industrial zones.

Whatcom County, WA – In September 2017, Whatcom County voted to approve its third consecutive 6-month moratorium on new shipments of unrefined fossil fuels. The County has commissioned a study on local options for prohibiting fossil fuel infrastructure and the results are expected soon.

Seattle, WA – Resolution 31757 (June 2017) affirmed the city’s commitment to the Paris Climate Accords and prescribed a series of actions, including directing the Office of Planning and Community Development and Office of Sustainability and Environment to analyze places in which municipal code could be amended to prohibit new fossil fuel infrastructure projects. In addition, the Resolution called on “all state entities to exercise their authority to halt and reject all new fossil fuel infrastructure projects within Washington State.”

Tacoma, WA  – Tacoma City Council adopted Ordinance No. 28470 (November 2017), the final ordinance establishing “Tideflats Interim Regulations”. The regulations temporarily prohibit the establishment of new fossil fuel infrastructure, including “[c]oal terminals or bulk storage facilities”, and “[o]il, or other liquefied or gaseous fossil fuel terminals, bulk storage, manufacturing, production, processing or refining of oil or other liquefied or gaseous fossil fuels”. The original proposed code also prohibited the expansion of existing fossil fuel infrastructure, but that language was removed from the final amended ordinance.

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