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County Council OKs Comprehensive Plan updates: What's next for Whatcom County?

posted Jun 5, 2017, 11:44 AM by RE Sources for Sustainable Communities   [ updated Jun 5, 2017, 2:25 PM ]
By Eddy Ury, Clean Energy Program Manager

Whatcom County remains a targeted route for export of tar sands, crude oil, fracked gas, propane, and coal overseas. Because of this, urgent action has been needed by our local leaders to set clear county policies before any new proposals are submitted.

Our county's Comprehensive Plan is a guiding policy document that helps county government set development regulations on land and water uses. Conditions for processing, approving, or rejecting permit applications are made in line with policies in the Comprehensive Plan.  

After an extended policymaking process that began in 2016, through collaboration with the county Planning Commission, Planning Department staff, attorneys, industry stakeholders and thousands of community members, in May 2017 the Whatcom County Council approved final amendments to the Whatcom Comprehensive Plan for Cherry Point. These landmark policies will:
  • Prevent piecemeal upgrades for oil exports by requiring federal Magnuson Amendment review of permits that involve handling crude oil.
  • Block any new proposals for shipping piers in the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve.
  • Recognize Lummi Nation’s history and treaty-protected fishing rights.
  • Encourage water recycling and low-carbon technology.
  • Commission a legal study to help the county protect the community from crude oil, coal, liquefied petroleum gases, and natural gas exports. 

Thank you to everyone who wrote, called, and testified at hearings over the past 18 months. Because of you, the council voted 6-1 to approve the amendments, even in the face of strident opposition. People like you made this possible. Thank you.

What's next for Whatcom County? We must continue to support the moratorium on permits for unrefined fossil fuel projects, and ensure the county completes a legal study by the end of the year. Read more below.


What’s next for Whatcom County

Extend the moratorium

The county’s temporary moratorium on permits for unrefined fossil fuel export projects remains in effect until September 2017. The moratorium must stay in place until the Shoreline Master Plan is updated, and until recommendations from the legal study can be implemented. With strident propaganda and campaigns opposing this moratorium, it will be critical for the majority of Whatcom County voters to show support for this action ahead of the November 2017 election.

Conduct a legal study

In accordance with Policy 2CC-16 of the Comprehensive Plan, the county will undertake a study to examine existing county laws and develop recommendations for legal ways the county could choose to limit the negative impacts on public safety, transportation, the economy, and environment from crude oil, coal, liquefied petroleum gases, and natural gas exports from Cherry Point. The county should consider any legal advice freely submitted to the county and make that advice publicly available. The county will develop code and rule amendments for council consideration as soon as possible.

Update Shoreline Master Plan

Under Washington State’s Shoreline Management Act, municipalities are delegated responsibility to decide on permits for development and conditional uses of shorelines. The Whatcom County Shoreline Master Plan outlines the conditions for permits. Whatcom County must update its Shoreline Master Plan to:
  • Prohibit permits for new piers, docks, wharfs, or shoreline modification within the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve.
  • Set conditions for shoreline permitting to ensure that no development will result in an increase of the volume of crude oil being handled at any facility, other than oil to be refined in Washington State. 
  • Conform to the conditions of the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve Management Plan, which was updated in January 2017.

Convene the Climate Impact Advisory Committee

Whatcom County’s 2016 Comprehensive Plan includes Policy 11D-6, which calls for the convening of a climate impact advisory committee by 2017. The advisory committee should consist of (but not be limited to) experts in energy efficiency and carbon emission reduction, representatives from Whatcom County, and interested community members. The committee will:


  • Evaluate Whatcom County’s compliance with meeting targets set forth in the 2007 Climate Plan.
  • Establish new targets that meet or exceed state and federal climate impact goals.
  • Update the Climate Plan, at minimum every five years, or as needed to meet targets;.
  • Recommend updates to the Whatcom County Comprehensive Plan in accordance with meeting Whatcom County’s emission reduction goals.
  • Ensure that Whatcom County government facilities and operations are designed to meet or exceed goals and standards resolved in the 2007 Climate Protection and Energy Conservation Action Plan and future updates. 
The committee has yet to be convened. We hope to ensure this is a collaborative, inclusive process which strives for the strongest achievable goals to make Whatcom County a leader in clean energy growth and climate adaptation. Stay tuned for updates, and email cleanenergy@re-sources.org if you are interested in getting involved in this process.