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Close to Home: Ban new gas pumps to treat our fossil fuel addiction

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and don’t necessarily reflect The Press Democrat editorial board’s perspective. The opinion and news sections operate separately and independently of one another.

It is true that banning new gas pumps won’t significantly reduce emissions right away, but that is not the point. The point of banning new gas stations now is to stop building new infrastructure that will prolong our addiction to fossil fuels.

No one is talking about banning existing gas stations or forcing anyone to drive farther for gas. Most communities have more than enough gas stations, usually within a few miles or even right across the street from one another. But the “modern” double-hulled underground tanks are built to last for 40 years — and the transition to cleaner fuels is already well underway.

Jenny Blaker
Jenny Blaker
Woody Hastings
Woody Hastings

Certainly, many other important actions need to be taken to respond to the climate crisis. Synchronizing traffic lights, reducing idling at drive-thrus and enforcing speed limits, as suggested in your March 19 editorial, could be among the creative ideas that are needed. More than that though, we need safe, accessible, affordable, convenient, connected, clean-fueled public transportation networks that actually work, so that taking the shuttle bus or the train becomes more attractive than driving a car.

Thirty percent of car trips in Sonoma County are for 2 miles or less, so we need safe, well-designed amenities that will encourage more people to walk and bicycle, particularly for these short distances. In fact, in the face of the climate crisis, we need to consider every viable solution, and we need all hands on deck.

When you’re in a hole, stop digging. When you’re in the midst of a climate crisis, stop — literally — throwing fuel on the fire by building new fossil fuel infrastructure. Prohibiting new gas stations is relatively quick and easy compared to many other more challenging solutions, and just one way to slow the escalation of the current crisis. Gas stations have been an iconic image of the American lifestyle for a hundred years. Now it is time to begin to wean ourselves off them.

All gas stations shed toxics on a daily basis — in the air and in hundreds of drips from pump nozzles. Underground tanks leak eventually, releasing toxics into waterways and groundwater and emitting pollutants that are damaging to human health and the environment. Every obsolete gas station will become a toxic cleanup site at some point. Why add more now?

Every pump leaves a wake of human and environmental destruction behind it, from drilling, pumping, pipelines, processing, transporting and refining, all of which disproportionately impact low-income communities, people of color and Indigenous communities. It is time to work toward a cleaner and at the same time more just future.

Sonoma County and all of its cities have adopted climate emergency resolutions. They mean nothing if local governments continue permitting unneeded fossil fuel infrastructure.

Petaluma became the first in the nation to prohibit new gas stations and the others are beginning to follow suit. Once a prohibition is enacted, it will save time and resources in the long run, as every application for a gas station permit takes time and resources to process — design review and zoning boards, planning commissions, city councils, county supervisors. Freed of these tasks, they will be able to turn their attention to other more immediate and more challenging solutions to the climate crisis. We all need to get on board, with every solution available.

Jenny Blaker and Woody Hastings are co-coordinators of the Coalition Opposing New Gas Stations.

You can send letters to the editor to letters@pressdemocrat.com.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and don’t necessarily reflect The Press Democrat editorial board’s perspective. The opinion and news sections operate separately and independently of one another.

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