Environmental advocates hope the ban will put the kibosh on big oil and gas projects before they start.
Environmental advocates hope the ban will put the kibosh on big oil and gas projects before they start. spooh / GETTY IMAGES

Monday evening the King County Council voted 6 to 3 to pass a six-month moratorium on new major fossil fuel infrastructure in unincorporated parts of the county. Councilmember Kathy Lambert tried to slip in a possible loophole on behalf of fossil fuel companies, but it was voted down. Councilmember Reagan Dunn argued that he didn't see the need to call an emergency meeting to vote on the issue, and so voted against it. This bill might have been the least the county could do on climate change, and the Republicans didn’t want to do even that much.

The temporary building ban gives the county executive's office time to study the impacts of expanding pipelines, constructing coal export terminals, and building other big fossil fuel projects proposed in the county over the last few years. (Sightline Institute has a good list of those, and that list features a menacing squid.) Councilmember Dave Upthegrove, who introduced the bill, mentioned "new or expanded bulk fossil fuel storage terminals, secondary infrastructure related to pipelines, and temporary infrastructure" as other types of infrastructure that will be temporarily banned and examined. The bill won't stop the construction of gas stations or the repair of current facilities, though. After the six-month period, the executive's office will present its findings to the council to see what could be done.

Environmental advocates—including 350 Seattle and Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility—have been pushing the proposal in an attempt to put the kibosh on big oil and gas projects before they start, citing possible pipeline expansion resulting from the proposed methanol refinery down in Kalama, Washington. According to the Seattle Times, that plant, which would burn a lot of natural gas, may or may not help to combat climate change. (Eds. note. It won't.) Advocates also hope the bill will go some way in preventing things like the giant 2016 natural gas explosion in Greenwood from happening again.

At the public hearing, a majority of the 90 people who testified spoke about current disastrous impacts of climate change. Doctors with WA Physicians for Social Responsibility emphasized dangers to public health—emissions that choke the skies, leaks, and explosions that kill people—and argued that these harmful effects have a disproportionate impact on people of color.

Over the phone shortly before the vote, Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles, who cosponsored the bill and who cited environment apocalypse movies and books as partial motivating factors in her decision (the power of the arts, people!!!), called the ordinance "a bold baby step."

In the context of imminent environmental catastrophe, a study and some possible action on permitting and zoning regulations for new fossil fuel infrastructure is small potatoes. As Kohl-Welles and the Seattle Times pointed out, the county can't touch the oil trains and pipelines that already cut through the region. But they can prevent new pipelines from expanding for a bit, and advocates hope the ban could become permanent. They're also hoping to start a trend among other cities and counties across Puget Sound.

KC Councilmember Claudia Balducci also called the legislation a baby step. "It may not prevent anything. It's protection, and that's good, and we should have it, and I support it, and that's good," Balducci said. "But let's all be in Olympia. Let's all be down there talking about the 100 percent clean fuel standard… and the greener buildings and greener appliances. It's all going on this year." Hear, hear.