June 12, 2024

Whole Community News

From Kalapuya lands in the Willamette watershed

Council asks for more facts on banning new gas stations

8 min read
One councilor cautioned against rash decisions, another asked for less emotion and more fact, and a third urged the council to learn a lesson from its time-consuming and ultimately abandoned attempt to ban new natural gas infrastructure.

Eugene city council considers banning new gas stations near homes and schools. On Oct. 18:

Jeff Gepper (Eugene planning): Jeff Gepper, senior planner from the planning division, and I’m here this afternoon to talk about gas stations within the city of Eugene within my realm, which is the land use code.

[00:00:16] We have 42 gas stations within the city of Eugene currently. Gas stations are permitted on most of our commercial zones, most of our industrial zones, as well as a handful of special area zones that can implement either a commercial or industrial designation.

[00:00:33] We do have many zones actually that don’t permit gas stations. So they either outright prohibit them or by excluding them, they don’t allow them. So those would be things like our residential zones, our parks and natural space zones, or natural resource zones, as well as a handful of overlay zones and special areas that just outright tell you, you can’t have a gas station at this location.

[00:00:58] Councilor Matt Keating: I see in parts of even South Eugene, there are areas where the zoning would allow for a service station or a gas station to be built. That gives me pause considering we have 42 and rising and in some parts of the community, gas stations where they are on multiple corners, in some parts of our community, where residents are within a five-minute drive of multiple gas stations…

[00:01:23] I want to underscore the urgency. I can find no justification to continue to allow more gas stations in our neighborhoods. 42 gas stations and growing; a six percent spike in the last five years. Gas stations become more polluted by releasing toxic emissions and more vehicular traffic. The fossil fuel industry won’t regulate themselves unless local government steps in…

[00:01:51] So both from a public health safety position and from a position of leaning into our climate goals and ensuring that EV charging stations are more ubiquitous:

[00:02:04] My motion is to initiate a land use code amendment that prohibits new gas stations within 500 feet of any dwelling or educational facility.

[00:02:14] Two, requires any new gas station to provide a minimum of one electric vehicle charging station for every four fuel pumps.

[00:02:23] Three, requires any expansion of an existing gas station, fuel distribution facility, or fuel storage facility to provide a minimum of two electric vehicle charging stations, and

[00:02:35] Four, defines necessary terms, such as gas station, EV charging station, and educational facility.

[00:02:43] John Q: After Councilor Emily Semple suggested increasing the buffer to 1,000 feet:

[00:02:49] Councilor Mike Clark: This is an interesting discussion. I think the motions are premature for me because of what we know and what we don’t know so far, especially with regard to potential dangers of charging stations. We don’t know the answer to that. You know, it takes 60,000 gallons to put out a battery fire, for example.

[00:03:08] I’m concerned about the effect on the market. I don’t know that it would be significant. I don’t know that it wouldn’t, but I think it’s important to know that before we take this sort of regulatory effect, because oftentimes it’s the situations where the prices go up on people who can least afford to pay them that that we ought to be concerned with.

[00:03:29] We don’t know, for example, if new gas stations are needed in order to keep prices from spiking. We don’t know the effect of not permitting gas stations on the price of gas that all of us pay.

[00:03:44] So I would like to learn quite a bit more about this, but I think it’s premature for voting in favor of acting at this point.

[00:03:56] Councilor Greg Evans: I hope at some point we can get staff’s feedback and research on the negative consequences or outcomes with regard to lithium batteries. I know that they tell you to take out any lithium batteries on the plane because they could explode or blow up. I think that’s an important factor for us to look at as we move forward in these conversations.

[00:04:25] Councilor Alan Zelenka: I appreciate the sentiment of the motion and clearly, I’ve been a strong supporter of reducing greenhouse gases emissions and getting off fossil fuels and reduce fossil fuel use.

[00:04:37] But I don’t agree with this tactic. This is effectively a ban on gas stations because of the unattainable requirements. So it’s a ban without using the word ban. The 500-foot, even 1,000-foot (buffer) probably puts almost all, 90% of the land, off-limits. It looks like most of the gas stations that exist wouldn’t be able to be where they are.

[00:04:57] And effectively EV charging won’t take place at gas stations, and gas stations won’t put them in. So they probably won’t turn to choose to do it because of the cost and the space required. There’s a reason there’s no EV charging at gas stations right now. It takes too long.

[00:05:13] And so, you’ll have EV owners having to sit in a gas station, exposed to the same fuels that you’re trying to deal with at a gas station for 15 to 60 minutes while they’re recharging, and that’s not okay for residential areas and other areas, but it is okay for EV owners to sit in a gas station for a very long time and be heavily exposed?

[00:05:33] It’s an unpleasant place to sit and do that. And so who’s going to sit there and do that at a gas station? And that will compete with other spaces and locations like offices and stores and malls and grocery stores where people can go in, charge their car and come back out.

[00:05:49] So, now we have, what, two percent EVs in Oregon, probably around four or six (percent) in Eugene, it’s higher and so we still have 90-plus% of our vehicles are combustion engines and EVs will increase over time with the advanced clean cars. And probably about 2028-2030, they’ll become a majority. And all of this transition will happen regardless of any actions by the city council. And the market will handle what happens to them.

[00:06:15] If we push in a ban, what we’ll do is we’ll push people out to Springfield and outside the city. So they’ll travel further, creating more greenhouse gases, which is counterproductive to what we’re trying to actually accomplish.

[00:06:27] Finally, I’m not sure why we actually haven’t learned a lesson from the (natural) gas ban. Taking on another, not a billion-dollar, but trillion-dollar business that will probably get delayed and divide the community needlessly and actually have almost very, very insignificant greenhouse gas emissions reductions.

[00:06:45] And this is just going to be yet another divisive measure that will take a lot of time and effort against a well-funded entity and not really reduce any greenhouse gases or have a significant impact on health, I don’t believe.

[00:06:58] Feels like deja vu all over again.

[00:07:00] I’ll point out that there are other ways to handle the fumes, including an upcoming DEQ regulation that’s going on right now that’s going to come out in 2024 to significantly reduce fumes and emissions from nozzles and gas stations.

[00:07:13] And finally, new gas stations with the latest technology for fumes and leaks wouldn’t be able to be replaced, the existing ones, because we’d have a ban. Wouldn’t we want to have the new gas stations instead of having the old ones stay in place for even longer? That doesn’t make any sense to me either.

[00:07:32] And then hydrogen is likely to be at gas stations. You can have a tank there. So what they do in California and it’ll be trucks there, but and it takes less time to actually fuel a hydrogen car than a gasoline car.

[00:07:45] And I’ll just point out, the Pacific Northwest just got $1 billion for a hydrogen hub in the Pacific Northwest to promote hydrogen and potentially for transportation use. I think that’s going to be a significant game changer, $1 billion is a lot of money.

[00:08:00] So I’m not in favor of this action at this point. There’s just too many problems with it and too many unknowns.

[00:08:07] Councilor Jennifer Yeh: I actually agree with Alan that as an EV owner, I would prefer not to sit at a gas station where there’s one or two chargers and fuel my vehicle. I’m going to go to a place where there’s multiples and I’m more likely to find a slot that’s open, or I won’t have to wait as long than trying to drive around town, looking for that one spot that’s open.

[00:08:28] I don’t think making those decisions today about how we should convert our system to EV is a good choice. I think we need more information to be making good long-term decisions about how future car drivers are going to charge their vehicles because I think the writing is on the wall.

[00:08:47] We’re switching. We’re making a fuel conversion in this country and it’s happening. And we should get ahead of it, I think, but making rash decisions about how we’re going to do that, I don’t think is a good decision.

[00:09:00] Councilor Randy Groves: Councilors Zelenka and Yeh just basically summed up a lot of what I’m feeling and thinking about. I do have mixed emotions about this. On one hand, I do want to get more toxicity out of our environment, but on the other hand, I just don’t feel like we have all of our questions answered at this point.

[00:09:19] I’m still wanting to have a way of protecting business and industry that rely on transportation to be able to have their own fueling sites without a ban on that. And also I would be interested in how we stack up in the state and maybe even nationally.

[00:09:36] My sense is we’re all feeling a certain something, but I don’t want to make decisions based on feelings. I want to make decisions based on science and fact… There’s not a place for emotion, although I do appreciate Councilor Keating trying to get out in front of this thing.

[00:09:53] Councilor Emily Semple: I think we’re in a position where we need to have another work session. And this is not without precedent. Often when we realize we don’t have enough information, we will pause and that’s what I’d like to see us do. I’d like to direct the city manager to come back with a follow-up work session.

[00:10:12] John Q: After banning new natural gas infrastructure in February, stirring up strong emotions that divided city residents, the council reversed itself and abandoned the effort in July.

[00:10:23] Asked to ban new gas stations, seven councilors voted this week to first seek more information. Councilor Mike Clark voted not to come back to the subject at all.

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