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Climate activists take part in a demonstration in Seattle on Aug. 31, 2015.

Climate activists take part in a demonstration in Seattle on Aug. 31, 2015. (Photo: John Duffy/flickr/cc)

"Huge Win": This County in Washington State Just Voted for a Moratorium on New Fossil Fuel Infrastructure

"A big deal for King County, a huge deal for Cascadia, and an indication of things to come for the country overall."

Andrea Germanos

Update: Cheers erupted in the King County Council chamber on Monday after the council voted 6-3 in favor of an ordinance that will put a six-month moratorium on new fossil fuel infrastructure within its jurisdiction.

"That is how we are going to get out of this crisis: by listening to solutions that come from the grassroots, from people rooted in their communities, working together with their elected officials." —King County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove

"The temporary moratorium is a strategy that has been used in other Washington local governments — Tacoma, Vancouver, Whatcom County — to hit the pause button while decision makers study the issue and come up with legally defensible permanent strategies," said Nick Caleb, staff attorney for the Center for Sustainable Economy. "In six months, we expect the County will have developed a strategy for a permanent ban."

King County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove, who introduced the ordinance, credited local activists for pushing the measure and said the moratorium was necessary to a address the very real "climate crisis" that threatens the local region and the planet. "I was fortunate that members of the public approached me with the idea for this proactive legislation to protect our communities," Upthegrove said. "That is how we are going to get out of this crisis: by listening to solutions that come from the grassroots, from people rooted in their communities, working together with their elected officials."

Anthony Rogers-Wright of Seattle, a board member of the Center for Sustainable Economy, said the vote was "a big deal for King County, a huge deal for Cascadia, and an indication of things to come for the country overall."

"Environmental justice advocates nationally are calling for an end to all new fossil fuel infrastructure as part of a Green New Deal," Rogers-Wright added. "The climate crisis is a global crisis that must be fought and led at the local level. We still have some work to do to turn six months into forever – but the journey starts with the first step, and this was a great leap in the right direction to a fossil-free future."

Earlier: Climate activists have their eyes on King County, Washington on Monday, where the city council is poised to vote on an ordinance that would put a moratorium on all new fossil fuel infrastructure within its jurisdiction.

"We're throwing a line in the sand for the future," city councilmember Dave Upthegrove, who plans on introducing the meaure, told the Seattle Times. If successful, it would send "a clear message that, moving forward, King County is going to support clean energy technologies rather than fossil fuel."

As Seattle, which worked with Upthegrove to draft the measure, explains

It protects our communities from toxic air, water and climate pollution in two ways: first, it enacts a moratorium that freezes new fossil fuel development across unincorporated King County. Then, it kickstarts a regulatory rewrite, comprehensively updating county land use code and permitting criteria to prohibit new major fossil fuel infrastructure.

If passed, the community would become part of a "growing movement of communities stopping fossil fuel infrastructure projects before they start," the group added, pointing to the examples in Vancouver, Aberdeen, Hoquiam, Tacoma, Whatcom County, and Baltimore.

As of this writing, Larry Gossett, Jeanne Kohl-Welles, Joe McDermott have added their names as co-sponsors, leaving observers uncertain about how the remaining five members on the nine-person council—vice chair Reagan Dunn, Kathy Lambert, chair Rod Dembowski, vice chair Claudia Balducci, and Pete von Reichbauer—will vote.

According to Eric de Place and Ahren Stroming of the Sightline Institute, "It's the right time for King County to act." They continue:

Over the last decade, Northwest communities have faced down an onslaught of proposals to build coal export terminals, oil-by-rail transfer depots, petrochemical refineries, gas export sites, and more. The combined carbon throughput of these projects would have outstripped the Keystone XL Pipeline by a factor of five. Most of these schemes wilted away in the face of sustained opposition, but a few goliaths still occupy the field: big proposals on the Columbia River, for example, would require new pipeline capacity in King County to deliver gas from the fracking fields of northern British Columbia.

And "natural gas is not a bridge fuel but rather the lesser of two evils," as Gerald A. Cufley, who sits on the Climate and Health Task Force at Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility, recently wrote.

Backing the ordinance, Cufley urged the "leadership of King County [to] do its citizens a service by fulfilling its constitutional obligation of assuring the health and safety of the people of King County and at the same time set an example for others to follow in the effort to secure an endurable future for the generations to come."

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