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US town opens new front in oil sands battle

Councillors in Bellingham, Washington, voted unanimously Monday evening to phase out fuel from the Alberta oil sands. It’s the first city in North America to directly target the often-maligned industry, according to green observers.

“Global warming pollution from fossil fuel use could have severe economic and environmental impacts on U.S. cities in coming decades,” reads a draft resolution. “High carbon fuels such as those derived from Canada’s Tar Sands [generate] at least three times more global warming pollution than the well-to-tank phase of other fossil fuels.”

The initiative isn’t an outright ban. It calls on Bellingham officials to avoid procuring high carbon fuel for the city’s transportation fleet, whenever possible. Four nearby refineries process Alberta bitumen, a gooey fuel that’s either mined or steamed from sensitive Boreal forest.

Green groups around the world have targeted the industry for its high carbon output, among other concerns.

Local councillor Jack Weiss, who authored the Bellingham legislation, hopes the city eventually moves beyond all fossil fuels. Municipal vehicles powered on electricity or biofuels could send a powerful message to the public, he said.

“We would be showing the industry that we are interested in trying to have cleaner and better fuels for the environment,” Weiss explained. “We try to be role models for the community.”

Bellingham’s gambit comes as the U.S. experiments with large-scale solutions for an ever-warming world.

California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard is being attacked in court by industry lobby groups. Pending clean energy legislation faces a tough battle in the U.S. Senate.

Yesterday’s council approval is the latest step in a growing campaign that has seen companies such as Whole Foods reduce their reliance on oil sands fuel, according to international green group ForestEthics.

These kinds of actions “can help catalyze the change that’s needed for a clean energy future,” senior energy campaigner Nikki Skuce said in a press release.

Geoff Dembicki reports for the Tyee.

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