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Bellingham Herald: Whatcom will consider another temporary limit on fuel shipments from Cherry Point

Bellingham Herald | BY ROBERT MITTENDORF | MAY 20, 2020

Whatcom County Council members will consider another temporary ban on shipment of unrefined fossil fuels from the oil refineries at the Cherry Point industrial area west of Ferndale.

Council members Tyler Byrd, Ben Elenbaas and Kathy Kershner voted against a measure to consider the extension, which passed 4-3 on Tuesday, May 19, 2020.

Consideration of another temporary ban will be at the council’s next meeting on June 2, 2020.

It would be the ninth such action since a short-term emergency ordinance was first enacted in 2016.

Council member Kathy Kershner said the ban is bad for business, particularly as the local economy is reeling from the new coronavirus pandemic, the loss of a proposed biofuel plant and the recent announcement that the Alcoa Intalco Works aluminum smelter will close soon.

Council member Ben Elenbaas, who works at the BP Cherry Point Refinery, said the measure doesn’t meet the criteria for limits on council action that aren’t related to responding to the pandemic.

“It sends the message that we’re not really interested in a smooth transition to a clean-fuel economy because we’d rather just crush the businesses that are there,” he said.

According to the measure, a continued moratorium is needed as county officials work toward updating a comprehensive plan for industry in the region.

It prevents new or expanded operations in the Cherry Point Urban Growth Area and the shipment of unrefined fossil fuels through its terminal.

An updated draft of the proposed amendments has been sent to the Planning Commission and to Planning and Development Services for review.

County counsel Karen Frakes said the Planning Commission has nearly finished its review.

It allows existing refineries to continue operating with certain limits but prohibits new fossil fuel refineries and restricts refinery expansion.

It also encourages the development of renewable energy facilities and sustainable businesses in the face of climate change.

The future of industry at Cherry Point was a key issue in this year’s races for Whatcom County Council and for county executive.

The Cherry Point industrial zone west of Ferndale is a 7,000-acre tract that’s home to two oil refineries, an aluminum smelter and some of the area’s highest-paying jobs.