The Whatcom County Council has approved a third six-month moratorium on new shipments of unrefined fossil fuels through Cherry Point.
The council voted 6-1 to do so after a long public hearing Tuesday night in which opposing sides made the same arguments as they have previously. Council member Barbara Brenner opposed extending the moratorium.
Council members have said they needed more time to consider land use rules and find out what they can legally do to protect people and the environment as demands push in on the county. They hope to get some direction from a $150,000 study.
The moratorium doesn’t affect current refining and shipment of products through BP Cherry Point and Phillips 66 refineries.
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It has been contentious and was spurred, in part, by Congress deciding in December 2015 to lift a 40-year ban on exporting domestic crude oil to other countries. Some fear that local refineries could shift to shipping unrefined materials abroad, eliminating local refinery jobs as pressure increased on deep-water ports such as Cherry Point.
Other concerns included climate change and proposals to move more crude oil and other unrefined fossil fuels through Whatcom County via rail, pipeline and tanker – heightening local fears about safety, spills and impact to the environment.
On Tuesday, refinery workers and representatives once again told the council it could harm family-wage jobs and tax revenue and make it tough for the refineries to continue to compete.
They also said the council was over-reaching its authority.
In response, Council member Todd Donovan said the council wasn’t trying to “shut down” the refineries.
“We need to know what we can do as a local government,” he said Tuesday.