Vancouver’s Fossil Fuel & Climate Policy Efforts are Heating Up

Big and important changes are coming to Vancouver, as the City takes the lead on efforts to ensure healthier neighborhoods and a livable climate.

Vancouver’s Fossil Fuel and Climate Policy Efforts Are Heating Up

Big and important changes are coming to Vancouver, as the City takes the lead on efforts to ensure healthier neighborhoods and a livable climate. Two upcoming decisions by the City, explained below, could keep dirty fossil fuels out of Vancouver and reduce the City’s carbon footprint. But neither decision is final, and the City needs your continued support to help it enact strong and equitable rules.      

Vancouver needs better pollution controls. According to the Washington Department of Health, some areas of Vancouver are among the worst in the state for environmental health disparities, including exposure to smog and other hazards associated with fossil fuel use.

WA Env Health Disparities Map Vancouver
Source: Washington Department of Health. Washington Environmental Health Disparities Map. Accessed July 2022. Map correlates environmental exposures, health outcomes, with demographic data.

Fossil Fuel Ordinance

In coming months, the Vancouver City Council will vote on a permanent ordinance to prohibit new or expanded large-scale fossil fuel terminals, such as rail terminals that bring in unit trains of coal, liquefied natural gas (LNG), and liquefied petroleum or propane gas (LPG). This policy is a critical health and safety protection for Vancouver communities often disproportionately impacted by the climate-changing pollution and health-harming smog, water pollution, and safety hazards that go with major fossil fuel facilities. 

For the past two years, the Vancouver City Council has repeatedly extended a temporary ban on large-scale fossil fuel facilities to allow time for a careful analysis of the impacts of a permanent ban. In July 2022, we expect to see Vancouver’s environmental analysis for the proposed ordinance. You can see Vancouver staff’s most recent presentation about the draft fossil fuel ordinance here.

As currently drafted, the permanent ordinance would:

  • Prohibit new large-scale fossil fuel facilities. These types of facilities can be fed by unit trains; are often located on liquefiable soils; and pose major health, safety, and spill risks during and after a seismic event.
  • Prohibit expansion of existing large-scale fossil fuel facilities. Existing facilities are allowed to continue operating, and may transition to cleaner fuels. (Certain fuels—aviation fuels, for instance—-are exempt.)
  • Allow facilities that convert to cleaner fuels to expand storage by 15% if they meet safety and seismic upgrade standards, and obtain a conditional use permit from the City. 

Community members have organized to support this policy for several years. Columbia Riverkeeper worked with community partners as part of the Alliance for Community Engagement (ACE). The Vancouver City Council has an opportunity to make this a long-term, enforceable City ordinance. 

Climate Action Plan

At the same time, the City is also proposing a forward-looking Climate Action Plan to reduce emissions and build a more livable, equitable, and resilient Vancouver. The Climate Action Plan offers specific actions the City will take to meet ambitious emission reductions targets.

The Vancouver City Council voted in June 2022 to set ambitious goals for reducing climate-changing pollution in the City. Vancouver’s Climate Action Plan would work towards the following goals: 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) from the City’s own public operations (such as vehicles used by the City) by 2025; 80% reduction of GHG emissions City-wide by 2030; and City-wide carbon-neutrality by 2040. 

The details and process for implementing the goals are important, and the City is largely pursuing actions that transition Vancouver equitably towards a more resilient and sustainable community, centering the frontline communities that face climate impacts first and worst.

Specific positive action items the City is considering include:

  • Focusing on communities most impacted by pollution and weather extremes through targeted programs that help homes and buildings remain efficient in extreme weather, and other measures to reduce energy costs and pollution burdens on low-income, BIPOC, and otherwise marginalized communities.
  • Promoting cleaner and more accessible forms of transportation, including improved public transit and wider adoption and support infrastructure for electric vehicles. 
  • Encouraging new buildings to meet high energy efficiency standards to avert health hazards from indoor fracked gas use and promote rapid electrification..
  • Expanded recycling and organic material collections.
  • Expanding and improving green spaces to reduce heat islands across Vancouver.

However, the City is also considering working with the fracked gas company NW Natural to promote renewable natural gas (RNG) and hydrogen from undetermined sources. The City should avoid propping up the fracked gas industry. Fracked gas will remain the vast majority of gas in Vancouver’s pipelines. Most of NW Natural’s RNG identified supplies (which are less than 2% of its purchased gas) are located far away from Washington. Purchasing credits for methane captured in out-of-state industrial agribusiness (gas that will not be physically used in Vancouver) should not be a priority for the City of Vancouver’s Climate Action Plan.

How to learn more and to take action?

Community action has driven Vancouver’s environmental progress, and your voice can have a major impact in supporting equitable actions that relieve the burdens of fossil fuel use and climate changing pollution across Vancouver. Rest assured that the fossil fuel industry and opponents of environmental protections are working to undermine the City’s proposed rules. The City Council’s willingness to take action speaks to the success of community pressure, the severity of the climate crisis, and the enormous risks of fossil fuel projects.

  1. Check out and share this comprehensive website containing an overview of the Climate Action Plan, Fossil Fuel Ordinance, and ways to take action from the Vancouver-based coalition Alliance for Community Engagement. It’s another great resource for engaging decision-makers on these policies.
  2. Show the City Council that you support a permanent ban on new and expanded large-scale bulk fossil fuel projects by attending and testifying at Planning Commission and City Council hearings.
  3. Support the development of an equitable, effective Climate Action Plan.