‘Is this the kind of future we really want?’

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category icon Editorials, Opinion

A local teenager speaking out against a proposed gas station complex asked Camas officials a tough question earlier this month. 

After speaking to her environmental concerns surrounding the proposed gas station complex near Union High School, the teen urged Camas City Council members to consider the future of local youth. 

“This issue will be affecting my generation more than any of yours,” she said. “This is my future. And the big question here is — is this the kind of future we really want?”

In the face of disastrous weather events, heat waves, wildfires, flooding and species die-offs fueled by human-caused climate change, many local government officials have started to ask themselves the same question. 

And when it comes to building new gas stations — which fly in the face of climate scientists’ warning that we must stop using fossil fuels now or pay dire consequences in the not-too-distant future — several cities have already imposed limitations and moratoriums and city councilors 130 miles south of Camas in Eugene, Oregon, are considering an outright ban on new gas stations.   

The limitations make sense considering West Coast states, including Washington, have already passed legislation that effectively bans the sale of new gas-powered passenger vehicles over the next decade. By 2035, 100% of the new cars, pickup trucks and SUVs sold in Washington, Oregon and California will be zero-emissions vehicles. 

The growing popularity of electric vehicles has already taken a toll on the nation’s more than 115,000 gas stations, and the consulting group BCG predicts that 80% of conventional gas stations will shutter by 2035. 

As a city that skews heavily residential, the city of Camas should put more thought into the types of businesses and industry it allows on its limited commercial land. City leaders have not been shy about imposing business bans before — in fact, despite the fact that nearly half of Camas’ voters approved the legalization of cannabis in 2012, the Camas City Council voted in 2015 to ban the one retail cannabis shop allowed in the city limits and subsequent Council members have shown little interest in overturning that retail ban.

The Oregon-based climate justice advocacy nonprofit group Beyond Toxins provides several reasons why a local jurisdiction might want to ban or limit new gas stations. 

Existing gas stations pose a threat to human and environmental health and undermine state and local efforts to reduce fossil fuels,” the group notes on its page detailing why Beyond Toxins supports a gas station moratorium in Eugene. “Gas stations emit toxic air pollution linked to asthma, birth defects and cancer …. (and) frequently leak petroleum contaminating nearby groundwater, soil and air causing damage to nearby properties.” 

We already know climate change is one of the most important issues for young voters. In a 2021 Pew Research poll, 67% of the Generation Z (born after 1996) respondents said they had discussed the need to take action to curtail climate change one to two times in the past week. In comparison, only half of the respondents who identified as part of the “Boomer Generation” (those born between 1946 and 1964) said the same.   

And we’ve seen opposition to new gas stations in Camas twice in the past two years. When Camas officials were considering the approval of a conditional-use permit for a gas station-convenience store-car wash complex near Prune Hill Elementary School in August 2022, Camas residents pointed out that federal guidelines recommend building new schools at least 1,000 feet from gas stations and that, under the Environmental Protection Agency’s most recent school-siting guidelines, gas stations pose “potential hazards” including air pollution, soil contamination, groundwater contamination, vapor intrusion into structures and heavy vehicular traffic.

Fortunately for people who are worried about new development in Camas, 2024 is the perfect year to make your voices heard. The City is just beginning a planning project that will help determine what Camas will be like two decades from now. 

As the City states on its EngageCamas website: “The Our Camas 2045 Comprehensive Plan will establish a vision for growth and development and will articulate goals, objectives, policies, and actions to guide our future through 2045. The plan will also address recent changes to Washington’s Growth Management Act related to housing and climate change.”

The Post-Record will publish updates on this comprehensive planning project and alert the public to surveys, open houses and other chances to weigh in on “Our Camas 2045.” We urge everyone who cares about the future of Camas and who has concerns about the City’s environmental health, public safety, affordable housing, traffic and commercial developments to weigh in as city leaders make decisions that will impact future generations and show a clear answer to that important question: “Is this the kind of future we really want?”