Tacoma must press pause on fossil fuel industry

Sherrie Duncan of Tacoma owns a natural resources management business and serves as board chair of Citizens for a Healthy Bay.
Sherrie Duncan of Tacoma owns a natural resources management business and serves as board chair of Citizens for a Healthy Bay. Courtesy photo

As someone who grew up in Puyallup and lives in Tacoma, I have personally witnessed growth and change in the Puyallup Watershed, particularly in the areas surrounding Commencement Bay.

I grew up with family and friends whose livelihoods were and continue to be supported by industry and manufacturing. I know how vital local family-wage industry jobs are to the well-being of our community.

With the Tideflats interim regulations, the Tacoma City Council has an opportunity to establish the right type of reliable and forward-looking protections our community needs.

The people opposed to these regulations are trying to undermine reality. It is a fact that the fossil-fuel industry has targeted, and is targeting, Tacoma, and that this industry directly puts communities at risk of oil spills, increased air pollution, congestion and much more.

Interim regulations and the land-use code changes that would follow the subsequent sub-area planning process wouldn’t create an uncertain regulatory environment; they would create certainty around what is allowed and the process by which to review the projects.

These regulations wouldn’t stop development; they’d stop new and expanded fossil-fuel infrastructure that are harmful to the long-term path for clean and reliable jobs in Tacoma.

We must start the hard work to transition to a clean-energy economy that builds family-wage jobs and invests in a just future. Interim regulations are a key part of this work by focusing on the source of the most harm.

They would prevent projects that increase pollution, threaten existing jobs, increase spill risks in Puget Sound and benefit corporations over community. That work must begin now, by putting a pause on new and expanded fossil-fuel facilities.

Tacoma is not alone; in Whatcom County, officials have already put in place a temporary ban while they consider their future. Additionally, Hoquiam, Aberdeen, and Vancouver already have in place land-use protections against new oil infrastructure. Tacoma should as well.

I am gratified to see the Port of Tacoma recognize the imminent threats from fossil-fuel exports in Tacoma. Next week the Port Commission will consider a resolution stating they choose not to develop new facilities for the international export of bulk fossil fuels on Port-owned property.

This is a step in the right direction through a non-binding resolution. One regret is that it did not happen sooner.

The city should continue its complementary path toward interim regulations for three reasons:

First, the Port could undo the resolution at any point. Second, the Port owns only a portion of the Tideflats, and the entire site needs protection. Third, the resolution only covers new facilities and exports but does not address other new facilities or expansions of existing facilities.

The City of Tacoma establishes local land-use policy, and the interim regulations provide a temporary mechanism to add protections that cover the entire Tideflats area. Next week’s Port action should not prevent city action.

Tacoma is in the middle of a decades-long transition. We are one of the West Coast’s most livable communities, with a diverse shipping, manufacturing and industrial hub.

I appreciate the thoughtful approach the Planning Commission put forward and ask that the City Council take action now.

Establishing these interim regulations will put us on the right path to protect our economy and prevent dangerous facilities from polluting our home.

Sherrie Duncan of Tacoma is the board chair of Citizens for a Healthy Bay and owner of Sky Environmental, a natural resource management business. Reach her at sduncan@healthybay.org