Interim Regulations – What You Need to Know

In November 2017, the City of Tacoma passed the Tideflats Interim Regulations to protect the Tacoma Tideflats (the Port’s so called MIC, or Manufacturing Industrial Center) from new fossil fuel and heavy industrial uses. These Interim Regulations initially lasted for one year but now expire every six months unless they are extended by the City Council. The next vote on renewal is May 2021.

A short video to help explain the Tideflats Interim Regulations and Subarea Plan.

The Tideflats Interim Regulations were put in place to stop major development while the City and other stakeholders decide how to re-zone the port. These stakeholders include the Puyallup Tribe of Indians, whose traditional and reservation lands cover the area now known as the MIC, the Port of Tacoma, the City of Fife and Pierce County. 

Right now basically anything could be built in the port (e.g. nuclear reactors, waste incinerators, etc.) but the re-zoning process would decide what kind of industry would be allowed and where it could be sited. This re-zoning is called the Tideflats Subarea Planning Project and has been off to a very sluggish start the past two years. It is expected to last a few more.

Sunrise Tacoma and 350 Tacoma advocate for stronger regulations at Tacoma City Hall.

Since the Interim Regulations were first proposed, scores of Tacoma residents have been advocating for them to include a ban on the expansion of current fossil fuel uses. In fact, the Planning Commission’s initial recommendations included such a ban (or at least a cap on growth), but the City Council did not adopt that portion. Each time the interim regulations came to be renewed, our coalition of groups applied pressure to have them reinstated and strengthened to ban any expansion by current fossil fuel uses such as ParPacific (formerly US Oil), SeaPort Sound Terminal (formerly Targa), Philips 66 and of course the Puget Sound Energy Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) facility. As they exist, the Interim Regulations essentially hand a monopoly to existing businesses in the Port as they don’t have to worry about outside competition.

SeaPort Sound Terminal wishes to build 170,000 barrels of new storage capacity.

And a ban is needed: SeaPort Sound Terminal has applied to expand twice since the Interim Regulations have been in place – once to nearly double their train loading capacity “for efficiency only” and a second time to tear down their defunct refinery and build 170,000 barrels worth of new storage tanks (go here and search for LU20-0107). Fortunately the City of Tacoma is requiring an Environmental Impact Statement be prepared for the latter, after initially issuing a determination of “non-significance” and receiving an outpouring of comments from the public.

Since the City Council is tired of dealing with the renewal process every six months, which includes a series of public meetings leading up to a final vote, the mayor proposed an amendment calling on the Planning Commission to propose a set of “non-interim” regulations that would last the remainder of the Tideflats Subarea Planning Project. The Planning Commission is presenting their proposed “non-interim” regulations on March 3, taking public comments via through March 8.

The good news is that the proposed “non-interim” regulations include a ban on the expansion of current fossil fuel industry as well as the requirement for “conditional use permits” for any modifications of existing infrastructure. But given the City Council ignored similar provisions the first time around, we need to apply huge public pressure to ensure that the Planning Commission’s proposed “non-interim” regulations are adopted as-is.

Here are the strong points of the recommended “non-interim” regulations:

  • Prohibition of new major fossil fuel facilities, petrochemical manufacturing, coal storage and power plants, and smelting within the City of Tacoma
  • Prohibition of new driveways, private rail sidings, docks, piers, wharves and floats, and storage tanks at existing fossil fuel facilities, as well as any modifications that would increase the capacity of these facilities
  • Prohibition of new refining or processing equipment at existing facilities
  • Conditional use permit requirements for replacement or modification of existing tanks, and replacement or modification of transshipment equipment
  • Conditional use permit requirements for new Renewable Fuel Refineries or Renewable Fuel Transshipment Facilities or the conversion of any existing Major Fossil Fuel Facility to a Renewable Fuel Production Facility

Our friends at Citizens for a Healthy Bay have an excellent form letter action to the Planning Commission about this. Letters are accepted until 5pm March 8.

350 Tacoma is asking concerned residents to send a form letter to City Council urging them to ban fossil fuel expansion in May, whether they merely extend the Interim Regulations again or enact the “non-interim” regulations proposed by the Planning Commission.

350 Tacoma street-theater action in Cummings Park on Feb 28.

We are also holding a series of street-theater actions around Tacoma to help spread awareness of this critical issue, featuring a fictional fossil fuel company called Petro Eternum Washington (PEW) that wishes to build PEW Pods (storage tanks) throughout Tacoma in public parks and spaces. Check out PEW’s website, our fake news broadcast building up to the action and a timelapse of the tank build at Cummings Park on Sunday, Feb 28. RadioTacoma did a great story on this action as well (“PEW (Petro Eternum WA) Rally in Tacoma – February 28, 2021”).