Tacoma industry adapts to cleaner expectations

Cameron Proudfoot is president of Tacoma-based U.S. Oil and Refining.
Cameron Proudfoot is president of Tacoma-based U.S. Oil and Refining. Courtesy photo

It is a rare day when a company with “oil” in its name proudly mobilizes to develop renewable fuels, but these days anything is possible.

The realities of climate change are upon us all, and at U.S. Oil, we are at the crossroads of conventional and renewable energy. We know the future of our business is in a transition from fossil fuels.

Newer folks recognize they hit the jackpot when they find Tacoma. As one of the last small independent refiners in America, we’ve known it all along. We were founded here 63 years ago, and it is our home.

You cannot be headquartered along these waters without embracing the values of this community. For my company, these values are codified in thousands of pages of regulations administered by 12 local, state and federal agencies.

We embrace this level of oversight to protect public and environmental safety. Part of being a good neighbor is extreme diligence for public and environmental safety.

My hope is that the City of Tacoma’s upcoming sub-area planning process is inclusive and relies on data, science and real-world market trends to inform decisions.

The energy market demands a transition, technology is improving and climate change is real. Yet here we are, an energy company ready to transition from fossil fuels, and there are proposed roadblocks and misinformation intended to prevent us from doing so.

That’s frustrating.

Last November, led by Mayor Marilyn Strickland, the City Council passed interim regulations that acknowledge the tradition of industries like ours in the Tideflats while imposing additional standards on potential newcomers. The next step is developing permanent regulations under the sub-area process.

We are listening to the voices of community members in the public process, including Puyallup Tribal Chairman Bill Sterud; he reminds us about responsibilities we share with the Tribe to safeguard the ecosystem we all inhabit. This region's environmental principles have been fundamentally shaped by the Tribe's leadership over time.

We are prepared to do our part by investing over $300 million in cleaner, greener renewable fuels that will truly reduce our carbon footprint.

Tacoma should be a place that thinks independently and dreams big. In this region, Boeing took flight, Microsoft grew up and Tacoma’s Brown and Haley made their candy known around the world.

It is in this spirit that U.S. Oil wants to expand its product offerings – read that carefully, its product offerings, not fossil fuel infrastructure – to develop the next generation of renewable fuels.

Demands for a clean-energy economy that builds family-wage jobs and invests in a just future are empty words unless those of us who still use gasoline and fly on planes are empowered to evolve. It can’t and won’t happen overnight.

And while it is easy to villainize fossil fuel companies, it will be a far more powerful win to lead the region in renewable fuels development, right here in our own backyard.

Moreover, the people and businesses that make up industries like ours – including our 198 professionals — aren’t by nature “dirty.” It is the diversity of industry and the people who drive a strong economy who represent the hardest-working, highest-trained among us.

Many folks have asked for change and we’re ready to go. What we all need now are Tacoma leaders who can see the future and the promise of this city to evolve in ways that are cleaner and provide a brighter tomorrow for everyone.

Cameron Proudfoot is president of Tacoma-based U.S. Oil & Refining Co. The longtime Pacific Northwest resident took that post in 2016 after ten years with the company.