If you want the quick version of this, know that we still want the city to pass the Non Interim Regulations as proposed by the Planning Commission. No amendments, no expansion, no exceptions! If you need more background on this issue, read our previous blog about it. If you want more detail, read on.
October 5 marked the first in yet another round of city council meetings dealing with the Non Interim Regulations for the Port of Tacoma. At that meeting, Mayor Woodards said that proper consultation with the Puyallup Tribe was needed in the schedule, so it has now shifted to the following:
- October 12: Study Session – Debrief Public Hearing and Discuss Potential Amendments
- October 15: Publish Draft Ordinance and Exhibits
- Tribe Consultation
- November 2: City Council – Date to determine if moving forward with Non-interim or Interim Ordinance
- November 9: City Council – First Reading of Ordinance
- November 16: City Council – Final Reading of Ordinance
(Note: Adoption after this date would require an emergency action to prevent a lapse in regulations)
- December 2: Interim Regulations Expire
(Note: A Six-month extension would apply through June 2, 2022)
As you can see above, on November 2 the city council will be discussing if passing the Non Interim Regs is even feasible. It’s possible that this whole situation is too messy again and the issue will be punted down the road another 6 months. We’ve already been at this for four years, and keep in mind that the Non Interim Regulations would only last the duration of the Subarea Planning Process (which is already taking far longer than anticipated).
The city council narrowly missed implementing the Non Interim Regulations as proposed by the Planning Commission back in May, with Mayor Woodards and Council Members Beale, Walker and Ushka voting for them, McCarthy, Thoms, Hunter, Hines and Blocker voting against. They then voted to pass them to the Infrastructure, Planning and Sustainability (IPS) Committee for “review.” This group is headed by McCarthy who spearheaded the process of proposing, ultimately, eight amendments with these headings (read the full proposal letter from McCarthy here):
- MOTION 1: New and Expanded Cleaner Fuel Facilities Permitted
- MOTION 2: Petroleum Fuel Facility Projects for Maintenance, Safety, Security, or Required to Meet Regulatory Changes
- MOTION 3: National Security Petroleum Fuel Facilities
- MOTION 4: Projects which have undergone Environmental Review and Mitigated Impacts
- MOTION 5: Financial Assurances
- MOTION 6: NE Tacoma Slope (Port of Tacoma Transition Overlay District)
- MOTION 7: Residential Uses in the M-1 District
- MOTION 8: High-Impact Uses
As Council Member Beale explained at the October 5 meeting, this was not a transparent process, with secretive side meetings resulting in the complete package of amendments being presented shortly before the final votes within the IPS Committee. The Planning Commission was also unhappy with these amendments and explained their concerns to the IPS Committee in a letter dated August 18. Basically, they said that a few of these amendments were redundant (2, 3) and that others which would allow fossil fuel expansion (1, 4) might run counter to their Findings of Fact (which formed the basis of their recommendations) and also the WA State Growth Management Act.
The most worrisome motions are numbers 1 and 4.
For Motion 1 the IPS Committee is proposing that existing fossil fuel facilities be allowed to expand by 15% for “cleaner” fuels. Unfortunately, their definition of “cleaner” includes:
- “renewable” diesel (which could be as little as 5% from renewable sources, 95% traditional diesel)
- ethanol blends (ethanol is derived from plant materials and the carbon benefits are dubious, gas station fuel often has 10% ethanol)
- natural gas (uh…I think they missed the memo on this one – natural gas is worse than coal)
- propane (also a fossil fuel)
US Oil (Par Pacific) has a storage capacity of 2.8 million barrels of oil, which means they could create 420,000 barrels of additional storage of products that are still mostly regular fossil fuels. SeaPort Sound Terminal has 1.5 million barrels of capacity, which means they could add 225,000 barrels of additional storage. Conoco-Phillips and NuStar together have nearly 700,000 barrels, which means 105,000 barrels of potential new storage. So in total that could be nearly 750,000 barrels of additional fossil fuels stored in Tacoma.
This makes no sense.
Fossil fuel companies shouldn’t be creating “cleaner” fuels in addition to their regular stock, it should be instead of regular fossil fuels. They should put their 5% “renewable diesel” blends in their current tanks. And then we should start removing tanks as we transition to carbon free energy sources.
Additionally, the City ordered an environmental review when SeaPort Sound Terminal wanted to expand their storage capacity by 180,000 barrels, and now they want to green-light even greater expansion?
The lawyers at Earthjustice do a great job in showing how flawed this recommendation is, how the IPS Committee was trying to confuse terminology, how it should require an environmental impact statement. Council Member Beale repeatedly asked for projected impacts of this motion but no figures were ever provided to him or the public.
*Storage capacities are from the City’s draft fossil fuel study.
Motion 4 is so disingenuous. It is all about Puget Sound Energy’s fracked Liquefied Natural Gas facility and allowing it to expand from processing 250,000 gallons per day to 500,000 gallons per day (which would also double their CO2 pollution), yet never mentions them once. PSE hasn’t even applied for the permits for this, but this motion would make sure they wouldn’t be constrained by the 15% limit on expansion of “cleaner” fuels.
The city likes to claim that PSE has already paid the “mitigation” costs of this project and thus the expansion is all but granted. But lawyers from Earthjustice point out that this could be a violation of our state’s anti-bribery laws and highlight previous cases demonstrating that Tacoma is not in fact beholden to allow PSE to expand this facility. We have yet to see any case law from the city to back their stance.
Despite widespread opposition from the residents of Tacoma and the sovereign nation of the Puyallup Tribe, the city continues to back and subsidize this climate-killing, for-profit venture by Puget Sound Energy. The air pollution permit for this facility is still being challenged by the Tribe and Earthjustice – a decision is now scheduled for November 19.
Briefly, motion 2 allows for facilities to do repairs and maintenance. The Planning Commission recommendations already take this into account.
Motion 3 is unnecessary as the federal government can order what they need already. Council Member Hunter was spreading rumors that JBLM would leave if Tacoma banned fossil fuel expansion.
Motion 5 calls for the city to check if fossil fuel facilities have federally mandated insurance. Sure. Fine.
Motions 6 and 7 are about residential encroachment into the “precious” industrial lands the city would like to reserve for industrial uses only.
Motion 8 we don’t fully understand and even Beale couldn’t tell us the implications of striking the “high impact use” category from the Planning Commission’s recommendation. We stand by the Planning Commission’s recommendations.
What To Do
The most effective action to take right now is to write individual emails to city council members, with an emphasis on Hines and Blocker who seem to be open to input:
- And cc firstname.lastname@example.org
Some things you could mention in your email: The city declared a climate emergency in 2019. The Planning Commission acknowledges the immediate and long term health and environmental impacts of fossil fuels on our residents and city in their Findings of Fact. The city is in the process of updating the Climate Action Plan which calls for a shift from fossil fuels. The Puyallup Tribe has called for a ban on expansion in testimony to the city council as well.
You may also want to take a look at this health disparities map and see how your neighborhood is affected by industrial pollution (you’ll need to select the viewing options with the menu on the left of the map screen).
Tacoma, and indeed the world, is a crossroads right now – double down on fossil fuels or start the shift to a carbon-free future. Right now our city council seems set to ignore the warnings from international climate scientists and health organizations, and the testimonies of their constituents. Let’s make sure they hear from all of us how important it is to ban all fossil fuel expansion in Tacoma. No exceptions.