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The US’s first, ‘historic’ ban on fossil-fuel refineries could have far-reaching consequences for Big Oil

“With all the fires and the heat, people are connecting the dots that this is climate change caused by fossil fuels,” a local official said

Bevan Hurley
New York
Friday 30 July 2021 20:07 BST
How cities are tackling climate change

Environmental groups are celebrating a “historic” vote by a county in northeastern Washington state to ban all new fossil fuel projects.

Whatcom County, home to two of the state’s five oil refineries, has become the first in the United States to halt the construction of fossil fuel infrastructure, including refineries and coal-fired power plants.

The sweeping restrictions voted in unanimously by the Whatcom County Council could serve as a blueprint for other local jurisdictions to curb air pollution and help reduce climate change.

“These regulations could usher in a new era of fossil fuel policymaking in the US, where local municipalities can use existing regulatory power to restrict the growth of the fossil fuel industry in an era where the US must swiftly transition to renewable energy sources,” environmental nonprofit RE Source said in a statement.

Upgrade projects at existing refineries and terminals will be subjected to more rigorous environmental review and permitting processes, Re Source added.

“Improvements that reduce pollution and improve safety will still be allowed if they meet these improved standards,” the statement said.

The decision comes after a years-long fight to restrict expansion by the BP and Phillips 66 oil refineries at the Cherry Point complex.

It will also ban refineries, which process oil from Alaska and Canada for the US West Coast, from gaining export permits.

Washington state and much of the Pacific Northwest have been ravaged by extreme heat this summer, with nearly 200 people dying, vast wildfires raging and roads buckling in the 110F heat.

Whatcom County has experienced temperatures in the 90s in recent days, 20F higher than its normal July average of 72F.

The heatwave has caused millions of marine animals to cook to death in the water, and glaciers at the nearby Mount Baker have melted, leaving the bare rock visible.

In 2016, a proposal to build a massive new coal exporting facility was blocked after the local Lummi Nation raised concerns it could wreck the local fishing industry.

President Joe Biden had pledged to make aggressive cuts to fossil fuel pollution, but so far failed to turn that into meaningful legislation.

William A. Galston, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution, told the New York Times that Mr Biden couldn’t afford to take a strong position on climate due to his wafer-thin majorities in Congress.

Republicans staunchly oppose any restrictions on fossil fuels.

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