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Citing Climate Concerns, Louisville Moves to Ban New Gas Stations with ‘Emergency Ordinance’

Citing Climate Concerns, Louisville Moves to Ban New Gas Stations with ‘Emergency Ordinance’

If government officials can’t force you to purchase an electric vehicle, it appears they’ll simply ban your ability to fuel your internal combustion engine car.

At least, that seems to be the tactic taken by the town of Louisville. Last Tuesday, with little fanfare or media coverage, the town council voted 5-2 on an emergency ordinance to institute a temporary moratorium on accepting or approving new applications to build a gas station anywhere within the town.

The emergency ordinance took effect immediately and will function as a prohibition on new gas stations until September 30, 2023. In the meantime, a petition for an initiative ordinance is circulating to gather signatures to make the ban permanent.

If successful, the move would make Louisville the first town in Colorado, and one of only a handful nationwide, to permanently ban new gas stations in pursuit of confronting climate change.

Council members said concerns that the town was not doing enough to reduce emissions and encourage clean energy spurred them to adopt the measure.

“We all saw what happened with the Marshall Fire. This council made a decision to not require people to build to the 2021 codes which I personally feel was a mistake,” Councilwoman Maxine Most said.

She said economic concerns and negative impacts on certain residents were no longer valid reasons to delay taking drastic steps to combat what she called “the climate crisis.”

“No matter when we decide to make that transition it’s going to be painful,” she said. “And the truth is, that pain has kept us for years and decades from making those decisions because it’s hard. No matter when we make those decisions there’s going to be winners and losers. And I think it’s time for the adults, who step up to take responsibility in elected positions, to understand that we don’t have a choice anymore. I understand there are all kinds of reasons why we shouldn’t make choices like this. I understand that there are negative consequences for certain parties when we make these sorts of decisions. But I personally believe we are well past the point where we have that luxury. If we’re really committed to sustainability and we really recognize there’s a climate crisis, that means every time we have the choice to do something about it, we need to do something about it.”

Residents opposed to the measure questioned why it was being considered while future projects actively sought regulatory approval. They said the sudden moratorium would be perceived as targeting specific projects and would send a negative message to businesses considering whether to invest in the community.

“The emergency ordinance to ban construction of new gas stations in the City of Louisville that is before you represents a flawed governmental process and should not be approved,” Mike Kranzdorf said. “Plans for the proposed Murphy Express gas station on McCaslin Boulevard are public and have been on the Planning Department website for almost a year. To present this as an emergency is disingenuous.”

“Regardless of the merits of the ordinance, the statement to the applicant and all businesses is that they can go through the planning and entitlement process, spending significant sums on professional planning services and fees to the city itself, and is at risk of losing all investments not due to valid planning or legal obstacles, but to the individual concerns of City Council members,” he added.

“Businesses face enough uncertainty without local government making last minute, targeted rule changes using procedures that are questionable at best,” Mark Oberholzer said. “As we saw in the recent Business Satisfaction Survey, the city does not have a great reputation as a place to do business and this will only make things worse.”

Other opponents of the ordinance questioned how banning new gas stations would make any difference in encouraging a clean energy transition.

“Although we understand that, on its face, the moratorium appears aimed at increasing electric vehicle usage, this proposal will have no effect on increasing the number of EVs on the road, yet will inconvenience a multitude of drivers looking for a fuel stop or convenience store,” Jeff Sheets, VP of Koelbel and Company, said. “If we are reading correctly the statistics from the State on EVs, less than 1% of drivers statewide drive an EV. In Boulder County 2.7% of drivers have EV’s. Conversely, that means 99% of drivers statewide and more than 97% of drivers in Boulder County currently drive gas cars.”

The movement of cities taking steps to ban new gas stations began, like most onerous climate regulations, in California. Last March, the Sonoma County town of Petaluma became the first city in the U.S. to ban future gas station construction or any new pumps on existing sites.

Since then, eight neighboring towns and cities have copied the ban, and the notoriously car-dependent city of Los Angeles is reportedly also considering the move.

The town of Louisville, under the leadership of progressive Mayor Ashley Stolzmann, has not shied away from passing aggressive legislation to combat climate change, even when it has created controversy.

Louisville was the first in the state to adopt the toughest version of the 2021 IEC building codes last year, complete with stringent amendments requiring all future homes to have a net-zero carbon footprint.

An initial analysis commissioned by the city pegged the compliance costs of the new codes at a minimum of $20,000.

“The expected cost of upgrades to meet the 2021 IECC as amended will range from a minimum of $20,000 for a natural gas home which buys into a [Community Solar Garden], to an estimated maximum of $55,000 for an all-electric home with PV on-site,” the report concluded. “Additionally, there will be continued on-going annual costs for the [Community Solar Garden], resulting in a total 15-year cost range of $29,400 to $50,520.”

Those costs came to the forefront after the Marshall fire destroyed more than 500 homes in the town, and disaster victims were forced to rebuild under the costly green codes.

The public backlash was so severe that the city council ultimately voted to allow fire victims to opt out. The strict codes still apply for all other residents, however, and could even become more restrictive if Mayor Stolzmann has her way. 

According to the Boulder Reporting Lab, Mayor Stolzmann has started talks with the town council to make Louisville the second city in Colorado to ban natural gas use in new commercial buildings. Crested Butte became the first city to do so earlier this summer.