Of the top 10 U.S. cities with the most cars per household, 9 are in California, mostly centered around the Los Angeles region.
Now, LA, famous for its car culture, could be the largest city to ban the construction of new gas stations. In March, Petaluma, California became the first town in America to ban new gas stations, ensuring its declaration of a “climate emergency” in 2019. Other small towns in Sonoma County have followed Petaluma’s lead, such as Rohnert Park, Sebastopol, and Santa Rosa.
“We are not surprised that many cities are following our lead to prohibit the development of new gas stations,” Council Member D’Lynda Fischer of Petaluma said in a statement. “We have an obligation to stop fossil fuel expansion and new gas stations lock communities into many kinds of risks. This is one of many steps Petaluma is taking. We are proud to be part of this growing movement to stop fossil fuel expansion and phase out fossil fuels.”
The movement travels far beyond California. On the other coast in Bethlehem, New York, and north of California in and Comox valley regional district, British Columbia, there is a movement to establish policies to prevent new gas stations and new fossil fuel infrastructure as a whole, as reported by The Guardian.
“We are ending oil drilling in Los Angeles. We are moving to all-electric new construction. And we are building toward fossil fuel-free transportation,” Paul Koretz, the LA council member who is working on the policy said in a statement. “Our great and influential city, which grew up around the automobile, is the perfect place to figure out how to move off the gas-powered car.”
While it will be long before electric vehicles dominate the roadways, officials backing the ban believe that it will allow for a smooth transition from reliance on gasoline. California plans to phase out new gas-powered cars by 2035, with other states having even more ambitious aspirations.
In addition to calling for half of new car sales to be electric vehicles by 2030, President Joe Biden has plans to build half a million public EV charging stations (four times the number of current gas stations) around the country by the same year.
Electric vehicles aren’t the only form of transportation on the rise. Many U.S. cities have plans in place to drastically increase public transit throughout the year of 2022, including transit powered by renewables as opposed to fossil fuels.
“The need to prohibit new gas stations is so clear. Why would we want more fossil fuel pollution and risk costly clean-up of more gas stations when we have enough, and when California won’t even have gas cars for sale by 2035?” Mayor Jackie Elward who championed the policy in Rohnert Park said in a statement. “Last year Rohnert Park declared a climate emergency. This policy is also part of our work toward a future free of fossil fuels and all the harms that come with drilling for them and using them.”
If instituted, Los Angeles would be the first major city to place such a ban. “We’re keen on getting it done before the end of this year,” Andy Shrader, who advises city councilmember Paul Koretz on environmental issues, said on a Wednesday press call arranged by the nonprofit Stand.Earth.
The idea may seem controversial, but the approved bans only stop the construction of proposed gas stations. With America having at least one gas station for every 2,500 people, there are still plenty of places for gas-car drivers to fill up their tanks at rising costs.
Gas prices have taken off across the country, with California averaging $6.37 per gallon. The local bans are not expected to have any impact on the price of gasoline.
Advocates of the policy say that the ravaging wildfires, blistering heat waves, and fatal flooding, exacerbated by climate change that has hit the U.S. recently are a sign to halt fossil fuel infrastructure expansion.
A report by SAFE Cities at Stand.Earth explains that prohibiting gas stations is one way to “fast track the clean energy transition.” Transportation is the largest sector of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, making up 27 percent of the total.
A leading reason for the change in the local health, environment, and equity impact. Over time, small spills at gas stations can accumulate into significant public health risks, as found in a 2014 Johns Hopkins study. Benzene, a known carcinogen that can cause respiratory problems and asthma, is one of the toxic fumes vented from gas stations.
It can contaminate the air, water, and soil. For years, scientists have known that it’s less safe to live near a gas station than away from one. Moreover, the U.S. EPA says that about half of the 450,000 brownfield sites in the country are contaminated by petroleum. Much of it comes from leaking underground tanks from old gas stations.
According to the SAFE Cities report, 11 percent of Black and Indigenous people and 14 percent of people living below the poverty line live within a half-mile of a brownfield site. In Santa Rosa, CA where a policy has been introduced to ban new gas stations, 44 of the city’s 46 gas stations are located in neighborhoods where the predominant residents are people of color and those of lower incomes, as confirmed by 2020 census data.
“Santa Rosa needs to invest in the infrastructure of the future and there is no credible plan for addressing climate change that doesn’t significantly reduce and eliminate our dependence on fossil fuels,” Mayor Chris Rogers of Santa Rosa said in a Wednesday statement, “Building new gas stations now means we anticipate needing more pumps for the next thirty yearsーand if that’s the case, then we have utterly failed our children and future generations.”
Outside of the global climate, local environment, public health, and equity concerns, cities and towns are instituting bans because it is the financially sound choice to make, according to SAFE’s report. The reality is that gas stations are on the decline. A 2019 study from the Boston Consulting Group found that 80 percent of traditional gas stations will no longer be profitable in about 15 years.
When gas stations are closed, cities and countries face pollution risks and costly cleanups, as shown in Newburgh, New York. Leaks are common when cleansing, and the cost of cleaning contamination from underground storage tanks is expensive and complicated to make it safe for new businesses to open shop.
As reported by SAFE, “the cost of remediating a gas station site ranges from tens of thousands to more than $2 million, with an average cost of $243,299 per site.”
The cost will be borne by taxpayers, Anne Pernick who works with communities to help shift away from fossil fuels at Stand.Earth told Grist. “The cost of new gas stations in terms of the health, equity, and safety of the community, as well as future stranded assets, is a bill that definitely ends up being paid by public dollars.”
“It’s really up to cities to turn around climate change,” Andy Shrader said on Wednesday’s press call. “If you have lung cancer, you stop smoking. If your planet’s on fire, you stop pouring gasoline on it.”