Community voices push Tacoma City Council to enact one of the strongest fossil fuel policies in the state, bans new and most expansions

November 18, 2021
By Erin Dilworth, Policy & Technical Program Manager, Communities for a Healthy Bay

On Tuesday November 16, Tacoma showed that polluting industries and monied interests no longer hold the same grip over the city they once did. We proved that when we all unite around protecting the health and wellness of ALL Tacomans, we can move our community in the right direction.

City council approved significant changes to Tacoma’s land use policy, known as the Tideflats Non-Interim Regulations. These changes will significantly alter the future landscape of the Tideflats, and while imperfect, will ultimately benefit both human and environmental health. These changes are permanent until the adoption of the Tideflats Subarea Plan, but serve as a starting off point for the more transformative land use changes that will result from the Subarea Plan. Here’s what the policy does:

  • No new fossil fuel facilities, including natural/fracked gas from fossil sources
  • Prohibition of fossil fuel facility improvements that would increase a facility’s ability to bring more fossil fuels into Tacoma. This means no:
    • New driveways, private rail sidings, docks, piers, wharves and floats.

      SeaPort Sound Terminal, a fossil fuel storage and transshipment facility in the Tacoma Tideflats

    • Site or facility improvements that would increase the capacity of a driveway, private rail siding, dock, pier, wharf or float.
    • New storage tanks, refining or processing facilities
  • No new smelters, coal terminals, mines, or quarries
  • If an existing fossil fuel facility wants to grow, it can only be for a Cleaner Fuel product
    • Some Cleaner Fuels have to be blended with fossil fuels. If fossil fuels are needed for a Cleaner Fuels project, the facility can only bring in 15% more fossil fuels than what they already store on site.
  • New facilities are prohibited from bringing in any fossil fuels. If a new facility wants to create a Cleaner Fuel that has a fossil fuel component, they will have to purchase that from an existing facility.
  • Unfortunately, the code has a special carve out for the Puget Sound Energy (PSE) Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) plant. If PSE wants to build out their infrastructure to maximize their refinery operations, they are allowed to apply for those permits – other existing facilities in the Tideflats are prohibited from doing that.
    • While the threat of more LNG coming to our community is real, we also know that the Environmental Review that was conducted for the LNG facility used outdated and in some cases false information, so it is likely a new Environmental Review would be needed. From Jordan Cove to Kalama, regulators have made clear that natural gas facilities do not pass the climate test.
  • New fuel facilities can only set up shop if they produce ‘Cleaner Fuels’. New facilities are prohibited from bringing in any fossil fuels. If a new facility wants to create a Cleaner Fuel that has a fossil fuel component, they will have to purchase that from an existing facility.
  • Cleaner Fuels include:
    • Credit-generating fuels under the Washington Low Carbon Fuel Standard

      Mayor Woodards (left) and Erin Rasmussen (right), of the Sunrise youth activist movement

    • EPA Renewable Fuel Standard fuels
    • Green hydrogen
    • Biodiesel
    • Renewable Diesel
    • E85 motor fuel
    • Fuels containing 70% or more alcohol-based fuel
    • Biomass
    • Anhydrous ammonia fuel
    • Electricity
  • There is uncertainty about some ‘Cleaner Fuel’ blends, and concern that there is a loophole that would allow regular gasoline or diesel blends that we all use today to be treated as a Cleaner Fuel. While City Planning and Legal staff have stated that this scenario could not happen, we know we have to continue to be watchdogs over the permitting process in the Tideflats to ensure we don’t see any new fossil fuels in our community that don’t achieve a greenhouse gas reduction.

New chemical manufacturing, processing, and distribution projects will have to get a Conditional Use Permit. This means these types of facilities will have to undergo extra environmental and public health and safety review, and our community will have more say in what types of chemical projects come here.


Any Cleaner Fuels projects will be subject to an Enhanced Environmental Review. While the elements of this enhanced review are still being worked out, CHB has pushed for a review that includes analysis of lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, human health and safety, and impacts to Tribal Treaty fishing rights.


CHB is disappointed in the City of Tacoma’s attempt at meaningful consultation with the Puyallup Tribe of Indians, which is required under the Land Claims Settlement Act of 1990. Land use policies like this one impact the Tribe’s treaty fishing rights, access to ceremonial and cultural sites, and overall health and wellbeing. The City conducted the Tribal consultation mere days before the final vote, without communicating they had no intention of making any substantive changes. This is not good enough, and the City must do better.


CHB acknowledges that the new Tideflats Non-Interim Regulations fall short of being transformative in the way we desperately need, but, it is important to recognize that progress matters. Hundreds if not thousands of community voices demanded more from our society, economy, and government leaders… that matters. Now, we focus on the work ahead in the Tideflats Subarea Plan where we will demand bold and transformative investments to expand transit, low carbon infrastructure, and good green jobs. While this wasn’t the win we need for climate, we are reminded that when we work together, we make progress. That shows us a better world is possible, and that is cause for celebration.

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