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Petaluma, California becomes first U.S. city to ban new gas stations

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Woody Hastings, co-coordinator of the Coalition Opposing New Gas Stations (CONGAS), joined Yahoo Finance Live to discuss the organizations push to ban the construction of new gas stations.

Video Transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING]

- The move to ban new gas stations. Petaluma, California becoming the first US city to do so. It's a move here aimed at accelerating the adoption of electric vehicles going forward. We want to talk all about this with Woody Hastings. A co-coordinator of CONGAS. This is the coalition opposing new gas stations.

Woody, it's great to speak with you. You're looking to ban, from my understanding, stations across all of Sonoma County. So of course this ruling in the city is a step in that right direction. But talk to us just about this movement and the impact of the ruling in Petaluma, California.

WOODY HASTINGS: Well, thank you very much. Yes, the coalition opposing new gas stations was formed in mid-2019 as a number of Sonoma County residents became aware of a large gas station proposal in a rural area in Sonoma County. And so we rose up to oppose it. And we had an early victory. We stopped the construction of a 16-pump gas station complex that would have included the car wash and mini mart, that sort of typical business model.

We-- we stopped that project. And in the course of addressing that one, we discovered several others and realized, oh, boy, there's-- people are still building new gas stations in the 2020s, when a lot of what's going on here in Sonoma County, and I think all around the country, are towns and cities and states responding to the climate crisis.

And here in Sonoma County, a lot of the cities and the county itself have recently enacted a climate emergency resolution. So our view is that, you know, if you're going to take a climate emergency resolution seriously, you know, the first thing you should stop doing is literally pouring more fuel on the fire. So stop building new fossil fuel infrastructure. Stop building new gas stations. So that's what we're doing.

And, yes, the Petaluma-- the Petaluma prohibition--

- Woody?

WOODY HASTINGS: --on new gas stations-- yes.

- I think a lot of us share the concerns you have to protect the environment. On one hand, though, even with GM and Ford phasing out gasoline-powered vehicles, gasoline is going to be around long after 2030 or 2035, depending which company. So wouldn't it--

WOODY HASTINGS: Absolutely.

- --make more sense to allow a smaller gas station with-- and you've got to have charging stations, electric charging stations. Wouldn't that make more sense? Because a lot of people can't afford the $40,000 to $50,000 electric car yet.

WOODY HASTINGS: We're-- well, yeah, we're not doing anything that would disrupt anyone from getting gas as they currently do. For example, the gas station that we rose up and opposed in 2019 and the ones that we're currently opposing, they're all being proposed in locations where there are literally more than 10 gas stations within a five-mile drive. We're not doing anything that relates to existing operations. So this is just about constructing new gas stations.

And I will note that, no, the dynamics of electric vehicle charging are not the same as gas stations. So we're not proposing that we start putting electric vehicle charging at gas stations. People charge their electric vehicles at home, at places where they spend some time anyway, like the workplace, or at shopping centers, things like that, public buildings. That's where EV charging takes place, not at fueling stations.

Some of that might happen over time, and we certainly wouldn't-- don't oppose that. Just not sure that that's the dynamic that will take place.

- Woody, what's been the reception outside of Petaluma, California, outside of Sonoma County? Have you been gaining traction? Have you been getting support in other areas of California?

WOODY HASTINGS: Regionally, yes. I mean, look. We live in a state here, and I live and where this is all happening in Sonoma, Marin, Napa County, north of San Francisco, we have experienced some devastating wildfires over the past few years. And that is part of the reason we've had these climate emergency resolutions. For us, and I think for other folks in other parts of the country that are-- you know, you connect the dots, and the crises, the disruptions are happening everywhere. And it's in part response to that.

And so, yes. Since we started CONGAS, I've been hearing from people all over the state that want to do similar and that are concerned about new gas stations. And, you know, it's just, you know-- I'll also say, we think, you know, from a financial perspective, from an investment perspective, yes, the point made about, you know, cars being around for a while and gasoline being around for a while. But is this the time to be investing in new infrastructure?

We would advise, you know, gas station developers and the big box stores and whatnot that are looking at, you know, building new gas stations, think about it. Think long. Because I don't think that if they're back casting, looking what the experience has been over the past 20 years is the same as what it's going to be in the next 20 years.

- Woody--

WOODY HASTINGS: We have a state that-- yep.

- Absolutely believe that the people of Petaluma get to decide what they get to do. But there's nothing to think about. It's either build the station or not. So I'm curious if you're getting pushback from the developers.

WOODY HASTINGS: Well, I mean, absolutely. So there is a town to the south of Petaluma, where Costco is in the process of proposing a-- what would be the largest gas station in Marin County. The city council is set to take a vote for that. It would be a 28-dispenser fueling station right near a wetland, and the community there is rising up. And that's another location where there are-- you know, where there are over 10 gas stations within a five-mile radius.

So it's not-- you know, it's not a situation where there's some kind of demonstrated need for a new gas station. And we also like to point out if folks say, well, we want cheap gas, there's really no such thing as cheap gas. You know, the US still subsidizes for the fossil fuel industry to the tune of around $20 billion a year. And there's, you know, just all kinds of externalized costs to fossil fuels, from extraction all the way to end use.

So we just think it's not-- it's not a place to be investing for the future. We need to invest in clean mobility. We need to invest in active mobility, walking, bicycle amenities, the ways for people to get around in their environment, and, yes, expanding clean electric and other clean, you know, vehicles for people to be able to get around, and the infrastructure that supports it.

- Woody Hastings, great to speak with you, co-coordinator of CONGAS, a coalition opposing new gas stations. Thanks for taking the time, and we wish you all the best.