King County is on the cusp of passing one of the strongest bans on new fossil fuel infrastructure projects in the country. Call King County’s Councilmembers today to urge them to pass the #FossilFreeKC Ordinance.
1. Tell us the story of the Fossil Free King County campaign. How did it start? What has it taken to build your movement to this point?
We were inspired by Portland’s fossil fuel ban – after years of fighting and winning against proposed fossil fuel projects, Portland activists came up with an innovative strategy to flip the fight. They recognized that local governments have constitutional power to protect the health and safety of their residents, and that they could use this power to change local land use zoning codes to prohibit new bulk fossil fuel storage facilities (i.e. large storage tanks for coal, oil and gas).
Other communities under threat from the fossil fuel industry – Vancouver, Aberdeen, Hoquiam, Tacoma, Whatcom County and Baltimore, MD – soon followed. Together, these communities have established a proven legal pathway for local governments to protect residents from toxic air, water and climate pollution.
We were ready for King County to join this growing movement of communities stopping fossil fuel infrastructure projects before they start. We formed a small research team, engaged other local health and environmental organizations, and networked with activists who’d worked on fossil fuel bans across the Northwest. We then brought our research to King County Councilmembers and asked for their support. We were prepared to get noisy, but luckily we didn’t need to – Councilmember Dave Upthegrove was excited to lead with us. Over the last 6 months, we’ve worked with his office to draft an ordinance that we’re quite excited about.
Two months ahead of the intro of the #FossilFreeKC ordinance, we launched our first public action meeting. Volunteers from across King County have been building support via a petition, signed postcards, a local business endorsement letter and presentations to community groups. At the same time, we’ve been working with the 40+ local, state and national organizations that endorsed the campaign to engage their communities in support of a Fossil Free King County.
Now, in the lead-up to the #FossilFreeKC ordinance, we’ve supported thousands of King County residents in calling, emailing and meeting with their County Councilmembers. We’re putting positive pressure on King County Council to do the right thing, and see that King County helps to lead our region to a healthier climate future for all.
2. What will this ordinance accomplish, and why does that matter in the fight to build a Fossil Free King County?
If passed, the #FossilFreeKC ordinance would be some of the strongest anti-fossil fuel legislation of anywhere in the country.
It protects our communities from toxic air, water and climate pollution in two ways: first, it enacts a moratorium that freezes new fossil fuel development across unincorporated King County. Then, it kickstarts a regulatory rewrite, comprehensively updating County land use code and permitting criteria to prohibit new major fossil fuel infrastructure.
By making changes to land use zoning codes, King County can prohibit new fossil fuel bulk storage terminals, blocking any new refinery or export projects on unincorporated County land. By strengthening County permitting criteria to protect local communities from health, safety and financial risks, King County can critically slow down – and perhaps effectively stop – the buildout of existing fossil fuel infrastructure like fracked gas pipelines and oil-by-rail.
The #FossilFreeKC ordinance is a huge step towards our fossil free future – by saying no to new fossil fuel infrastructure, King County can say yes to strong communities, yes to healthy environments for all King County residents and yes to good union jobs in the renewable energy economy.
3. What are the implications of this fossil fuel infrastructure ban for Washington state and the Pacific Northwest?
King County is poised to join a growing wave of PNW communities that are zoning out fossil fuel infrastructure – helping to lead our region towards a healthy climate future for all.
This month, both King and Whatcom Counties will see the introduction of ordinances that proactively prohibit new fossil fuel infrastructure. With large Northwest counties as well as cities passing model ordinances, there’s a clear pathway for other local jurisdictions to protect their communities from fossil fuel threats.
We know that the first step to getting out of a hole is to stop digging. Yet the fossil fuel industry is continuing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year on looking for new fossil fuels, and will do everything in its power to extract them and bring them to market ― even if it means the whole world burns.
This January, we have the chance to pass meaningful local legislation in King County that will help prevent the fossil fuel industry from digging the climate hole even deeper.
4. What can our readers do to support you in this campaign?
If you live in King County and aren’t yet engaged in the Fossil Free KC campaign, now is the time! Call King County Council in support of a Fossil Free Future, and sign up here to plug into the campaign.
For folks outside of King County – what can you do to start building energy for a fossil free future in your community? City by city, county by county, we can create a powerful patchwork of local ordinances prohibiting new fossil fuel infrastructure and together stop the build out of dirty energy.
In the next few months, we’ll be putting together a toolkit and resources for communities around the US who are ready to pass local ordinances prohibiting new fossil fuel infrastructure. Sign up on this Google form to connect with Fossil Free KC organizers and stay in the loop.
5. Do you have any advice for other groups fighting for a Fossil Free future?
Partnerships are key! We reached out to local health, environmental and environmental justice organizations as we were first envisioning Fossil Free KC – asking for and receiving substantive input on campaign building blocks like our community endorsement letter was important as we developed strategy and our narrative. Engaging key partners early on was also critical – it was quite meaningful to be able to show King County decision-makers from the get go that there was broad community support for a Fossil Free King County.
We also reached out to organizers in communities that had already passed fossil fuel bans, places like Portland and Whatcom County. They helped us build the policy knowledge to push for the strongest King County legislation possible and offered rich lessons from their organizing experience. Beyond that, it’s been deeply energizing and inspiring to join a network of folks fighting fossil fuels across the region!