Transition Whatcom

The Creation of a Local Peak Oil Task Force

The Energy Resource Scarcity / Peak Oil (ERSPO) Task Force of Bellingham and Whatcom County will soon be releasing its report. In preparation, I thought it would be a good idea to provide some background.

In the spring of 2007, local peak oil educator John Rawlins suggested to me that it might be a good idea to pass around a petition in support of a peak oil task force here in Bellingham, Washington. I didn't have time to get a petition drive going, but soon after that I read a candidate questionnaire in Whatcom Watch, and they specifically asked the candidates running for office in the local election that year about supporting the creation of a peak oil task force. I noticed that the majority of answers were supportive, and I noticed the strongest response was from City Council candidate Jack Weiss, who said it was a moral imperative. I decided we probably didn't need to do a petition, but rather just sit down with some key players and see if we could make it happen. Shortly after the election I contacted the newly elected Councilman Weiss to arrange a meeting on the topic. At the same time another citizen, Bill Dean, had the same idea, so we joined forces and began having meetings in December.

The original inspiration was that Portland, Oregon had a peak oil task force, which had already completed its process and issued a report. John Rawlins, Bill Dean, and I all thought that Portland provided an excellent template that we could model after. John wrote about the Portland report in the Whatcom Watch here: http://www.whatcomwatch.org/php/WW_open.php?id=820. A number of other cities and communities have also initiated task forces, and the Post Carbon Institute had begun a Post Carbon Cities project with a book by program director Daniel Lerch ("Post Carbon Cities"). All of these were helpful and inspiring.

A self-selected committee began meeting in December of 2007, and by May 2008 we had a proposed Resolution for the creation of a local peak oil task force. The Resolution was accompanied by an 8 page Briefing Paper that introduced the issue, and why we thought the creation of a task force was important. The committee consisted of Bill Dean (agricultural advocate), John Rawlins (retired nuclear physicist), Kate Clark (formerly doing workforce development for the Energy Industry at BTC, now a Transition Whatcom Initiating Group member), Clare Fogelsong (COB Dept. of Public Works), Andy Day (COB Fire Department/Emergency Management), Christina Reeves (Whatcom County Conservation Resource Analyst), City Councilman Jack Weiss, County Councilman Carl Weimer (Pipeline Safety Trust), Robyn DuPre' (RE Sources for Sustainable Communities), Satpal Sidhu (BTC Dean of Professional Technical Education), Joey Zamudio (heating & air conditioning business), and myself (Vision Team for Sustainable Bellingham, and Transition Whatcom Initiating Group member).

In May of 2008, with the support of Mayor Pike of Bellingham and County Executive Pete Kremin, the City Council and the County Council unanimously passed the Resolutions we brought forth.

For more about the task force, read the interview with me that was posted at Post Carbon Cities, and the article about the new task force by Katherine Garvey, Sustainability and the Bellingham/Whatcom County Energy Resource Sc....

The Briefing Paper can be found here.
The Resolution passed by the City of Bellingham here.
The Resolution passed by the County Council here.

Although a number of other cities have had peak oil task forces, we have the distinction of being the first to have a joint city/county task force. Wordings of the Resolutions were slightly different for the city and the county - one County councilman had proposed an alternate resolution to the one we had drafted, so we worked toward a compromise.

Below is the Resolution passed by the Whatcom County Council.

ESTABLISHING AN ENERGY RESOURCE SCARCITY TASK FORCE TO STUDY AND MAKE RECOMMENDATIONS REGARDING THE CONSEQUENCES OF POTENTIAL CHANGES TO THE SUPPLY OF ENERGY RESOURCES ON WHATCOM COUNTY AND THE CITY OF BELLINGHAM

WHEREAS, proactive planning is critical so that our communities are resilient and prepared in the face of the environmental, economic, and social challenges of diminishing energy supplies; and

WHEREAS, currently U.S. economic, social and political institutions are dependent on abundant energy supplies; and

WHEREAS, Whatcom County and its citizens and businesses depend on oil and natural gas for their economic welfare and their most critical activities, including transportation, food supply, water delivery, health care and electricity; and

WHEREAS, global reserves of oil and natural gas are finite; and

WHEREAS, a debate exists about the development of economically viable substitutes in the future; and

WHEREAS, some energy industry experts believe that the world has already arrived at, or will soon arrive at, the peak of global oil production, which will be followed by an inevitable decline in available supply; and

WHEREAS, U.S. oil and natural gas production appear to have peaked and are now in decline, ensuring our nation's continued and growing dependence on oil and natural gas imported from politically unstable regions; and

WHEREAS, global demand for oil and natural gas continues to increase, and the decline in global oil production threatens to increase resource competition, geopolitical instability, and lead to greater economic disruptions; and

WHEREAS, we can no longer assume that energy prices will continue with modest cost increases that can be easily planned for, but rather we are facing a future of increasing uncertainty in our energy supply and volatility in energy prices; and

WHEREAS, Whatcom County governments, residents and businesses will benefit from greater attention to this topic, as they are not currently aware of the full implications of an impending decline in energy supplies, such as impacts on transportation, food production and delivery, business and home energy use, land use planning, municipal water and wastewater treatment, social services, and additional demands on first responders; and

WHEREAS, many of the options to lessening dependence on fossil fuels could result in local green collar jobs and substantial economic benefits; and

WHEREAS, the City of Bellingham and Whatcom County have each adopted Climate Action Plans, the success of which depends upon reducing carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels; and

WHEREAS, many other communities are developing plans that analyze the impacts of Peak Oil on their communities and recommend appropriate responses.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Whatcom County Council acknowledges the enormous challenges and potential opportunities of confronting energy vulnerability; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that a task force will be established to study and make recommendations regarding the consequences of changes to the availability of energy resources. This task force should examine the energy vulnerabilities of our current infrastructure and consider appropriate changes in order to ensure that economic, social, and environmental infrastructures are resilient in the face of uncertainties brought about by shifting energy markets. The task force will include up to 18 members selected by the Mayor of Bellingham and the Whatcom County Executive, representing a broad range of government, community and business interests. The task force members guiding each subcommittee will include those with expertise and knowledge of the category to be examined. Sub-committees shall be established to include the categories of:

1) Land Use and Transportation;
2) Food and Agriculture;
3) Public and Social Services (including public education, health, social services, utilities and public safety);
4) Economic Transition (including retail, manufacturing, service, tourism);
5) Energy and Water;
6) Community Education and Preparation.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the task force's charge is:

1) To utilize current and credible data and information on the issues of peak oil and natural gas production and the related economic and societal consequences;

2) To seek community and business input on the impacts of changes to energy resource availability, rising energy prices and proposed adaptations;

3) To develop recommendations to the city and county councils in this calendar year on strategies the city and county governments can take to mitigate the impacts of declining energy supplies in areas including, but not limited to: transportation, business and home
energy use, agriculture and food security, health care and social services, land use planning, water and wastewater treatment, and local energy development. These recommendations and proposed outcomes will include suggestions as to appropriate implementing bodies (governmental and non-governmental), market based and regulatory programs/incentives
as well as possible funding sources for outcome success.

4) To propose methods of educating residents and businesses about this issue in order to therefore reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, electricity, and other energy sources subject to resource scarcity.

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Comment by David MacLeod on November 8, 2009 at 5:57pm
The 2nd installment of my series of posts on the local task force is now posted over in the Peak Oil Forum. Just to be confusing, the 2nd installment is part 1 of a three part mini-series, a posting of the May 2008 Briefing Paper, "Local Solutions from a Peak Oil Task Force."
http://transitionwhatcom.ning.com/forum/topics/local-solutions-from...

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