Historic fossil fuel prevention ordinance passes in King County!

In a major victory, the King County Council passed an ordinance preventing new fossil fuel facilities in a 6-3 vote. Introduced by Councilmember Dave Upthegrove, the moratorium follows Whatcom County and other Northwest communities with similar policies that protect health and safety and take action on our climate crisis. 

WPSR members worked closely with 350 Seattle and other groups, including the Sierra Club and the Power Past Fracked Gas coalition, in support of this historic ordinance. We’re grateful for 350 Seattle and Councilmember Upthegrove’s leadership to move this issue forward! Thanks especially to Jess Wallach, who first approached us about getting involved in this a year ago. 

This moratorium is a win for health. WPSR published a research report making the case for it, sent letters and made calls to Council members, two of our physicians, Dr. Ken Lans and infectious disease pediatrician Dr. Dianne Glover, testified. Dr. Lans spoke at a press conference just before the vote. Read his remarks below. 

Good morning. My name is Ken Lans. I’m a retired General Practice physician, the past-president of Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility, and the father of an 18 year-old son.

In a couple hours, I will be testifying before the King County Council, urging them to protect the health and safety of this county’s citizens by passing the Fossil Free KC ordinance.

As a physician, I know that adding major fossil fuel infrastructure puts more and more people’s health and safety at increased risk. Fires and explosions, while rare, are still much too common and, when they do occur, can be catastrophic, like the 2016 Greenwood gas explosion. Add to that the known risks of adverse health effects that result from exposures during fuel extraction, processing, and transportation.

There are also huge health impacts from burning those fossil fuels. Our reliance on these fuels means we’re dumping enormous amounts of global-warming causing CO2 and health-harming gases and particulate matter directly into the air that we, and our children, need to breath. Most in the medical community now see climate change as the biggest, most serious threat to our public health.  

We know from the medical evidence, and from seeing patients in our everyday practices, that air pollution and climate change — human-caused climate change — hurt real people right now.  All of us can be harmed, but poorer populations and communities of color are even more heavily impacted, as they tend to live in areas with higher levels of pollution and toxic air. Numerous health studies show that, because of increased exposure to pollution, they tend to die younger and suffer more ill-health throughout their lives. That’s true here in Seattle (as in many other places) where, largely due to localized pollution, residents of the Georgetown, South Park, and Beacon Hill neighborhoods have a life expectancy eight years shorter than the city’s average.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, our own government’s National Climate Assessment, and the World Health Organization all recently reported findings that climate change is accelerating even more quickly than predicted — and added loud warnings of profound climate change-related dangers to human health if we continue on our current path of greenhouse gas emissions.  

As the experts also so clearly lay out, the longer we wait to act, the more fossil fuel we continue to burn, and the more carbon dioxide and other pollutants we pour into the air — the more the earth will warm, the more extreme the climate will become, the more air quality will worsen, and the more dire and widespread the impacts and harms on people will be.  To put it bluntly, the prognosis — without a prompt change in course — is very bad. 

We have about a decade to greatly accelerate our transition to clean energy. But while the time to act is short, it’s still in our power to make the wise choices that get us off this unsustainable trajectory. 

The grave dangers posed by climate change mean we should be doing everything we can to reduce our fossil fuel use, rather than enabling it.  The Fossil Free KC ordinance, which will stop expensive, unwise and health-damaging investments in major fossil fuel infrastructure, is an important step in the right direction.

To protect everyone’s health, we urgently need to begin transitioning off our heavy and harmful reliance on fossil fuels. This transition to cleaner sources of energy will help drive down emissions, reduce levels of pollution, and bring enormous and immediate health benefits and health cost savings.

That is why, as both a health professional and a father, I am urging the King County Council to take this bold step forward to protect the health and safety of this county’s citizens and pass the Fossil Free KC ordinance. 

Each and every one of us has both the power and the responsibility to ensure that our children and grandchildren will inherit a safe and livable planet, where they can thrive and lead full, healthy, and productive lives. 

Dr. Ken Lans speaking at a rally in support of the moratorium.

Dr. Ken Lans speaking at a rally in support of the moratorium.