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‘Political bravery’: Climate activists aim to ban new gas stations – ‘Beyond-gasoline movement raises awareness of health, climate & equity impacts of gasoline’

By Jennifer A. Kingson

Illustration of a gas sign with cancel signs where the money would be

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Petaluma, California, has voted to outlaw new gas stations, the first of what climate activists hope will be numerous cities and counties to do so.

Why it matters: Expect more such ordinances, particularly in liberal towns. Grassroots groups are popping up with the mission of spreading this type of ban and forcing pollution cleanups at existing gas stations.

  • The movement aims to accelerate the shift to electric vehicles.
  • “This is not a ban on the existing gas stations, which are providing all the gas currently needed,” Matt Krogh, U.S. oil and gas campaign director for the environmental group, tells Axios.
  • “The problem with allowing new gas stations is we don’t really need them and they’re putting existing gas stations out of business.”

Driving the news: In Petaluma — where neighborhood opposition to a new Safeway gas station prompted years of litigation — the council voted unanimously last week to move forward with a permanent ban on new stations; a final vote will happen Monday.

  • Existing stations won’t be allowed to add new gas pumps, though they’re encouraged to build electric charging bays.
  • “The city of roughly 60,000 people is host to 16 operational gas stations, and city staff concluded there are multiple stations located within a 5-minute drive of every planned or existing residence within city limits,” per the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.
  • The city councilor who introduced the measure, D’Lynda Fischer, is quoted as saying: “The goal here is to move away from fossil fuels and to make it as easy as possible to do that.”

Between the lines: The Petaluma effort had the support of, which runs a campaign called SAFE Cities (an acronym for “stand against fossil fuel expansion”).

  • The group says 30 cities and counties have passed policies in keeping with their agenda, but none has gone as far as Petaluma.
  • “It’s actually political bravery to be the very first,” says Krogh, the SAFE Cities director.
  • Over time, as gas stations close in Petaluma, they’ll be required to clean up whatever toxins are on the property, which Krogh applauds: “We have a lot of unfunded cleanup needs associated with fossil fuels sort of writ large across the country.”

The big picture: The Petaluma effort inspired groups like the Coalition Opposing New Gas Stations — or CONGAS — which seeks to ban gas stations in Sonoma County, California.

  • A Seattle-based group called Coltura, which aims to phase out gasoline altogether, is working on the issue locally and nationally.
  • “Just as the no-smoking movement highlighted the dangers of secondhand smoke, the beyond-gasoline movement raises awareness of the health, climate and equity impacts of gasoline and diesel use,” Coltura says on its website.

What they’re saying: “In the 2020s, this is not the time to be expanding fossil fuel infrastructure,” Woody Hastings, co-coordinator of CONGAS, tells Axios.

  • Gas stations are “already ubiquitous — there’s no shortage.”
  • He says his group has succeeded in blocking three applications to build new stations in Sonoma.
  • “A lot of the stuff that happens here can be framed in the climate crisis frame, and that does motivate people here,” Hastings said.

The bottom line: The movement is still tiny — smaller than the movement to ban natural gas hookups in new construction — but seems to be spreading quickly.