California cities banning new gas stations amid climate change

Not realizing they were starting a movement in green energy policy, the leaders of a small Sonoma Valley city appeared to have done it when they questioned the approval process for a power station. new gas station – eventually brought its development and other future gas stations to a halt.

“We didn’t really know what we were doing,” said D’Lynda Fischer, who led last year’s steering committee. in a city of 60,000 people. “We didn’t know we were the first in the world to ban gas stations.”

Since Petaluma’s decision, four other Bay Area cities have followed, and now California’s most car-focused urban leaders are hoping to bring climate-minded policy to Southern California .

It opens a new front in California’s drive to reduce carbon emissions and has sparked an outcry from the fuel industry, which argues that consumers will be affected.

“Cities really depend on turning climate change around,” said Andy Shrader, director of environmental affairs for Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz. Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz’s environmental director, who proposed LA work toward a ban on new gas stations. While the motion failed to gain traction, Shrader and other council leaders expect a hearing on the matter this summer.

Shrader said at a recent conference on gas station bans across California, “LA’s huge and damaging ecological footprint has really helped us stay on this path. “If you have lung cancer, you stop smoking; if your planet is on fire, you stop pouring gasoline on it. “

While Petaluma officials at the time called the new gasoline pump ban “totally unmanageable,” it was unclear how such a policy would be applied in Los Angeles, a city with 65 times more population and transport infrastructure is still heavily dependent on means of transport. Gas station lobbyists said they would oppose the move in LA if it went ahead.

But Koretz said such a ban would help the city better prepare for a future free of fossil fuel-powered vehicles that California has pledged to stop selling by 2035.

“With Governor Newsom’s schedule to end gas-powered car sales by 2035, gas stations are a dying business,” Koretz said. “Their toxic chemicals take years and millions of dollars to clean up.”

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, about half of the nation’s 450,000 brownfields – sites that contain hazardous substances, pollutants or contaminants – are compromised properties due to the presence or potential hidden source of oil, much of it leaked from old gas stations.

A man takes a photo of a petrol price sign in downtown LA

Jim Moreno, 56, of Los Angeles, photographed a petrol price sign in downtown LA

(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Koretz’s proposal — which calls for the city to continue to be “at the forefront of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution” — would require city officials to draft an ordinance banning any chemical fuel pumps. new fossil fuels in the city and requires that “any expansion of existing gas stations be limited to serving zero-emissions vehicles and providing non-fuel related vehicles”.

It will not affect the current operation of any station.

“Taking the common sense of stopping new terminals and helping existing stations transform their business models ensures that we are protecting our small business owners and ensuring that the city will did not implement the bill to clean up a bunch of toxic assets stuck in relatively close proximity,” Koretz said.

For some, like Karen Huh, who says she sees four gas stations at several intersections near her South LA home, the idea makes a lot of sense.

“Honestly, I think we have enough – more than enough,” the 28-year-old said as she filled up a jug on South Vermont Avenue. She also said that, with current gas prices, she’s looking into buying an electric or hybrid vehicle when she’s finished paying off her SUV in the next few months.

Troy Walker, 49, said he also wanted to switch to an electric car, but their skyrocketing prices pushed the idea to fire. However, he said he wouldn’t be shy about the city banning new gas stations, especially given what he knows about climate change – something he learned during a course on climate change. Sustainability.

“If people were more educated, they would be more conscious and would object to the new gas stations,” said Walker, depositing his tank at the recently opened 7-Eleven on West Century Avenue, one of a handful of new gas stations authorized by LA in recent years.

From 2016 through the summer of 2021, Los Angeles only approved permits for one or two new gas stations per year, except in 2017, when three were approved, according to data provided by Koretz’s office to The Times. It was not immediately clear whether permission was granted last year, as the city’s Department of Construction and Safety did not immediately respond to a request for records for additional information.

“I’m concerned about the ozone layer for my children’s future,” Walker said. “It will definitely affect the younger generation.”

However, Brian Mullins said he wants local officials to focus on strengthening electric power infrastructure rather than stopping new gas stations. He points out that the pumps have a limited lifespan, which means they eventually need to be replaced.

“How long until you don’t have enough gas stations?” Mullins, 62, asked, as he refueled at a station in Westchester.

Koretz’s proposal, endorsed by Councilmember Kevin de León, was introduced in May 2021 but was brought forward by the city’s Land Use and Planning Management Committee in September without much discussion. City leaders now say they expect a full hearing in August.

Five neighborhood councils – Westside, Silver Lake, Los Feliz, Echo Park and North Westwood – submitted statements in support of the proposal, at least three of which voted unanimously in favor of the proposal. City profile shows. Only one person raised the idea in public comments in September, questioning why the city hadn’t “taken the lead and switched its entire fleet of vehicles to non-gasoline burning before.” [officials] make life more difficult for other people in the city? “

At least one other nearby city – West Hollywood – is also considering restricting new gas stations. Its city council passed a directive in April 2021 for officials to evaluate the plan before formulating legislation. West Hollywood spokeswoman Sheri Lunn said the proposal is up for subcommittee review and if approval continues, it could see a full council vote by the end of the year. now.

“Los Angeles is completely saturated with gas stations, and a few gas stations more or less won’t make any difference to the overall price.”

– Andy Shrader, director of environmental affairs for LA City Councilman Paul Koretz

Los Angeles County has just over 2,000 gas stations in 2020, according to data from the California Energy Commission. The commission does not track city-level data.

In 2020, about 2,750 million gallons of gasoline were sold in LA County, according to the commission’s figures — about three times more than in any other county in California. In 2019, before the pandemic impacted travel and commute, LA County gas sales totaled 3,600 million gallons, state data shows.

A man pumps gas.

Chris Huang of Los Angeles looks at the $20.35 purchase price after receiving about 2½ gallons of gas in downtown Los Angeles on June 1.

(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

As more cities consider bans, the California Fuel & Convenience Coalition, which lobbies for gas station owners, will continue to respond, said Sam Bayless, the union’s policy director. for these proposals. He is primarily concerned about how market restrictions could drive up gas prices even further and how an outright ban might affect the city’s growth.

“Not being able to serve the people who live there, who are going to work, dropping their kids off from soccer practice… is really a disadvantage for newcomers to the area,” Bayless said.

While he called the future of gas stations a complicated issue due to the climate crisis, he said they remained an “essential service”, as electricity and other energy sources had yet to fill the void. , especially for low- and middle-income Californians.

But the outcry has not affected the movement’s success for leaders in Rohnert Park and Sebastopol, both small Sonoma Valley cities that have passed bans on new gas stations, as well as cities nearby American Canyon and Calistoga. Officials in other California cities, as well as in New York and British Columbia, say they are developing similar legislation to limit reliance on fossil fuel infrastructure.

“We can’t even think again about banning gas stations,” said Park Mayor Rohnert Jackie Elward. “Why would we want more fossil fuel pollution with costly cleanup of more gas stations when we have enough, and California won’t even have a car for sale by 2035?”

A man fills up his truck's gas tank

Richard Castro spent $164.58 on about 23½ gallons of gas at a Mobil station at 77th Street and Sepulveda Boulevard in May.

(Al Seib / For The Times)

But Kevin Slagle, a spokesman for Western States Petroleum Assn., which lobbies on behalf of oil and gas companies, said he was worried the bans could have “undesirable consequences.” .

The bans will only make it harder for consumers to find fuel, Slagle said. “According to what we’re facing today – a lot of demand and not a lot of supply – if you start bringing out terminals, new and existing, if you make an item harder to find, that usually means higher costs,” he said.

Shrader said the idea that banning gas stations could affect fuel prices was “nonsense.”

“Los Angeles is completely saturated with gas stations, and a few gas stations more or less won’t make any difference in overall prices,” he said.

Leaders of Stand.earth, an environmental advocacy group promoting gas station bans, argue that air and soil pollution – disproportionately affects low-income communities of color – as well as the difficult process of cleaning abandoned pumps is reason enough to ban new terminals.

“The real question now arises as we ban new gas stations: What are we going to do with our old gas station sites?” Fischer, Petaluma councilor, said. “Because it will take a lot of work to clean up. … That’s the next wave of this: thinking about what’s to come. “

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-07-11/california-cities-ban-new-gas-stations-amid-climate-change California cities banning new gas stations amid climate change

Edmund DeMarche

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