Update, July 27 2021: The Whatcom County Council held a public hearing and unanimously voted to pass the proposed amendments after years of community effort and stakeholder engagement. The amendments will prohibit new refineries, transshipment facilities, coal plants, piers, and wharfs in the Cherry Point industrial zone. Learn more.
Xwe’chi’eXen (Cherry Point) has been a part of Lummi Nation’s ancestral land and waters since time immemorial. It is vital habitat for salmon, herring (a vital food for salmon), and other species that Tribal and commercial fisheries need to exist. The Cherry Point industrial zone hosts two oil refineries, an aluminum smelter (curtailed as of mid-2020), and three marine transshipment terminals. The Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve is one of eight designated habitat areas in Washington vital to the survival of the Salish Sea ecosystem.
Cherry Point has been a targeted route for increased exports of crude oil, tar sands, and fracked gas for decades. Lummi Nation and our community blocked the would-be largest coal export terminal in North America in 2016. The coal terminal and moratorium have been fierce local political issues with significant electoral spending by both advocates and opponents in elections in 2013, 2015, 2017 and 2019. Now, we have a chance to protect this special place while investing in good-paying jobs that reduce pollution and move us towards a clean energy future.
Local governments are the only lawful decision-makers standing in the way of expansions that bring even more trains and tankers. They are responsible for limiting the risks, hazards, pollution and harm these projects cause. Yet under Whatcom’s statute until 2021, expansions of existing facilities can be permitted with minimal review, without recognition of their impacts. Small, piecemeal upgrades can add up to a big impact without strong local policies like Whatcom is set to pass.
The home stretch for strengthening standards on polluting industries
Many cities across the U.S. have taken action to address climate change and greenhouse gas emissions by limiting fossil fuel expansion and requiring new commercial and residential buildings to be fossil fuel-free. But Whatcom is set be one of the first refinery communities in the U.S. to pass these other sorts of policies. Whatcom County’s action represents a groundbreaking move by a local jurisdiction to restrict the types of projects that can be built on its existing heavy industrial land. Read more.
Oil companies have largely gotten a free pass in Whatcom County for over 60 years, getting major permits for polluting projects approved with inadequate environmental review — putting our communities and waterways at risk of dangerous oil spills and train explosions. After years of public pressure, the County Council is set to pass amendments to existing law that would raise standards for fossil fuel projects in the Cherry Point industrial zone. Whatcom County has embraced its right and duty to protect public safety and the environment by setting reasonable standards for industry at Cherry Point — and it’s critical for the community (you!) to get involved! Receive updates and ways to take action from our e-newsletters.
- In 2013, Whatcom County determined that the impacts of two oil train terminals were non-significant and permitted them without reviewing the impacts — despite the major risks posed by crude oil trains that have exploded twelve times in the US and Canada since.
- Current laws are vulnerable to loopholes and gray areas that oil companies could exploit to sue Whatcom County for rejecting permits with unmitigable negative impacts to our communities.
- One oil spill could cause irrevocable damage to already endangered fisheries that are the foundation of the livelihoods and economy of families who have relied on fishing since time immemorial.
- Cherry Point is a targeted route for increased tar sands, oil, and gas shipment from Canada.
These code amendments will limit industrial development in several important ways:
- Prohibit new fossil fuel transshipment facilities, coal plants, and piers.
- Conditionally permit expansions of existing refineries and terminals.
- Bolster environmental review standards for new projects at existing industries.