FAQS

General questions – start here:

SAFE is a movement of neighbours, local groups, and elected officials taking concrete, meaningful action to protect communities, accelerate a clean energy future, and address the climate crisis. Put simply: we’re a growing, global network of communities Standing Against Fossil Fuel Expansion (SAFE).

If we want a safe and just future, one of the most important things we can do is keep fossil fuels in the ground, and one of the most effective places this can happen is at the local level.

Communities on the frontlines of fossil fuel development are being poisoned with toxic air and water every single day and we're facing a global climate crisis, yet the oil and gas industry isn't letting up. Instead, it's delaying our transition to clean, renewable energy by trying to squeeze every last penny out of fossil fuel reserves. Right now, there’s more oil, gas and coal approved for development than the world can safely burn. At the same time, the global climate justice movement has never been more powerful – transformative change is within our reach.

Fighting fossil fuel threats one at a time can feel like playing the world’s most exhausting and unfun game of whack-a-mole. One with no end in sight. If you're in a community on the frontline of the fossil fuel industry you already know this well – no sooner have you defeated a massive coal terminal proposal then a tar sands pipeline pops up. Or you’re already fighting a refinery expansion or an oil-by-rail plan when industry comes again with plans to build a giant, explosive liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility.

The SAFE movement wants to end all that by blocking fossil fuel infrastructure projects before they’re even proposed while championing an all-electric future – it's time to stop playing defense, and go on offense.

You can read our full backgrounder here.

Fossil fuel expansion refers to the buildout of any infrastructure that allows for more fossil fuels to be extracted, shipped, and refined. This includes – but isn't limited to – oil and gas wells, coal mines, pipelines, oil train routes, terminals, refineries, and storage facilities.

The fossil fuel industry wants to build and expand these facilities, even though our climate can’t handle any new fossil fuel projects and vulnerable communities are already being unfairly burdened by pollution. We can’t let that happen.

Right now, many homes and businesses still burn gas for heating and cooking. Unfortunately, burning gas in our buildings is extremely unhealthy – gas poisons our indoor air and poses huge health risks to our communities. And these health risks are even worse in smaller homes and apartments making lower-income communities and communities of color more vulnerable to the toxic indoor air that comes from burning gas indoors.

Burning gas in buildings is also a huge contributor to climate change. About 40% of greenhouse gas emissions globally come from our buildings. A huge part of this comes from using fossil gas, since it releases large amounts of methane – a very potent greenhouse gas.

Building electrification is the alternative. Rather than hooking up fossil fuels to our homes, restaurants, and office buildings, we can run everything on electricity. Electric buildings have far less indoor air pollution, have no risk of gas explosions, and are ready for the clean energy future.

This is why we’re inspired to see more and more local governments passing policies to speed up the transition to all-electric buildings. From giving developers incentives to build all-electric developments to banning fossil gas hookups, policies to get gas out of new neighbourhoods are gaining steam.

And now new conversations are bubbling up about how to transition existing buildings from gas to electricity – and do it in a fair way. Advocates for equity and racial justice (including us at SAFE Cities!) will be watching closely to make sure that this next wave of building electrification policies mandates retrofits to existing buildings in an equitable manner, making sure that the costs of this much-needed transition aren’t borne by low-income or vulnerable residents.

By putting in place local government policies to block new fossil fuel developments before proposals are even drafted, or to mandate all-electric buildings or transportation.

In many nations around the world – including the US – local governments have the power to use zoning and land use laws (yes, those policies that say what can be built and what kind of activities can happen where) to protect local health and public safety. That’s because it’s part of their job to make sure their communities can breathe clean air, drink clean water, and avoid risking explosions near homes and schools.

The catch? Often, local governments face pressure from the oil and gas lobby, and they need to know that community members will have their backs if they stand up to big oil. By showing support for good zoning and land use laws (and let’s be honest, sometimes applying a little pressure of your own), you can help your local Council members pass SAFE policies and play a crucial leadership role in keeping fossil fuels in the ground.

Already dozens cities across the US (and a handful in Canada!) are passing groundbreaking policies to phase out fossil fuel developments and speed up electrification, and this movement has the potential to spread all over the world.

Already dozens of towns and counties in the US, from San Jose CA to King County WA and Baltimore MD, have passed SAFE policies, along with a handful in Canada. And communities are working to pass SAFE policies in cities, ports, counties, regional districts and tribal jurisdictions.

Visit our interactive map to learn more about places that have passed SAFE policies here.

This is a global movement – anyone anywhere in the world is invited to join the movement and work to pass SAFE policies.

To become a SAFE City globally, you need to pass a local government resolution affirming the need to stop fossil fuel expansion, or pass local policies that phase out fossil fuel infrastructure or mandate all-electric buildings or transportation. We can’t yet provide legal, policy or digital organizing support to groups outside the U.S. or Canada, but we can help you with organizing tips and we can share our campaigning playbook for you to translate into your own context.

We’re also partnering with local organizations who are able to advance the details where they are. If you’re a group outside the U.S. interested in partnering to pass SAFE policies in your own communities, please get in touch!

Reach out to us at  SAFE@stand.earth and we will look into adding your community to the map.

Indigenous people, people of color, and low income communities and neighborhoods are most harmed by the fossil fuel industry and are most likely to face threats of dangerous projects. By ending fossil fuel expansion, SAFE policies help protect all community members – especially people living near proposed refineries, liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals, oil storage facilities or other dangerous fossil fuel projects.

We recognize that local fights against fossil fuels have at times resulted in wealthy communities pushing fossil fuel infrastructure into poorer communities and communities of color. This is unacceptable.

SAFE policies must be just and equitable. This means that the policies passed by our local governments need to protect us all – and especially prioritize the wellbeing of communities that have historically been most harmed by fossil fuels.

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Right now, local governments are deeply – and rightly – concerned with managing the twin public health and economic crises caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Luckily, passing policies that phase out fossil fuels and create jobs in renewable energy can tackle both of these crises, while addressing environmental racism and injustice.

The toxic air pollution from burning fossil fuels is deadly, and people living in neighbourhoods with polluted air are more vulnerable to poor health outcomes from COVID. Fossil fuels are responsible for nearly 40% of all global deaths from air pollution. Ten thousand people die per day, or 3.6 million per year, from fossil fuel pollution. This is unacceptable.

And now, emerging research is showing a strong relationship between exposure to air pollution and mortality from COVID-19. This isn’t just a public health issue, but also a racial justice issue, since Black and Latino people are especially vulnerable to COVID, and are more likely to live in communities with higher air pollution.

And when it comes to fossil fuels in our homes, shifting to all-electric heating and appliances has huge health benefits too. Gas appliances for heating and cooking lead to toxic indoor air, especially in smaller households with poor ventilation (like small apartments), disproportionately harming low-income people.

There are more details (and references) on all of this in our briefing note for elected officials on how phasing out fossil fuels at the local level can improve health and create jobs.

SAFE can work hand in hand with other efforts to protect communities and move us off fossil fuels. There are three important ways that SAFE is different from other efforts:

  1. It’s all about local action. In an era where federal protections are being deliberately dismantled, actions by local people and elected officials using local laws are incredibly important.

  2. It offers local and global protection. People who use the SAFE strategy are creating long term protections for their communities and for people around the world, and justice for those most impacted by the fossil fuel industry. Their SAFE work says no to more local danger from pollution and accidents, and no to more climate chaos around the world.

  3. It’s permanent. SAFE gives people the strategy and resources to block projects before the companies behind them even apply for permits. No more “whack-a-mole” where communities stop one project but there are more waiting.

Building a local movement to pass laws isn't necessarily easy, but it's incredibly strategic and effective.

You don’t need to be an expert in government, zoning, or activism to convince your local council to pass SAFE policies, but you do have to have passion and commitment to stick with the campaign for as long as it takes (since government policy-making can take time!). You also have to be willing to work with people in your community to build a movement that can get the job done (which we're here to help with! You won't have to do this alone). More on support and resources in the next section.

If you’re ready to start

Visit the interactive SAFE map to see what SAFE work is already happening in your community. If a group is already working on SAFE policies in your area, you can sign up to join them.

If there isn't a group already, you can sign up to start your own group with help from Stand.earth. Or if you're already part of a group that wants to organize to pass SAFE policies in your community, we can help get you and your group involved by clicking here. Once you do that, we’ll reach out by email to get you information on next steps.

Yes! We have samples to draw from and experts to offer legal analysis to help create strong SAFE policies. Here are some examples of successful regulation.

Every community is different, so our best advice is to start with a policy that both addresses the most pressing needs of your community and is politically possible.

For example, a great first step for your local government may be to pass a resolution setting out an intent to pass SAFE policies, exploring fair financing structures, and directing staff to suggest policies to help reach your community's climate action goals.

Or your city council may be ready to pass a solid policy right away. This could vary from banning gas hook-ups in new buildings (mandating all-electric construction) to ending the build-out of any new fossil fuel infrastructure. If your council is new to climate leadership, electrification policies might be an easier first step than fossil fuel moratoria, especially in communities that aren’t currently facing threats from new fossil fuel infrastructure (like refineries, shipping terminals or rail lines). That said, policies that phase out fossil fuel infrastructure are hugely impactful in the long run, and can be worth starting early organizing efforts around!

Stand.earth supports SAFE Cities with a team experienced in stopping fossil fuel expansion and providing resources to build people power.

If you're in the US or Canada, we can help you build a local email and phone number list, we’ll get you access to powerful online campaigning tools, and we will connect you to legal analysis and support, draft policy language, and other tools you need. And wherever you're based, we can help by sharing case studies of successful SAFE campaigns, sample policies passed by local governments in other places, as well as resources for countering industry opposition. You can check out some of our resources here.

Anne Pernick is one of our staffers who supports people in the SAFE network. You can reach her by email at SAFE@stand.earth. She’ll answer your questions and provide resources or connect you with other Stand.earth staff members for the information and resources you need. If you want Anne to call you, include your phone number in your email.

Local governments have broad authority to protect the health and safety of the community through land use regulations. Within the US the specifics are different from state to state, and globally they vary from country to country, and the details matter. We've conducted a high-level overview of the regulatory environment across all 50 states that we can share on request, and we also have sample ordinances available in the resources section of our site. In Whatcom County, Washington, local leaders hired a law firm to help understand the legal landscape and we’re using this report and other resources to strengthen the SAFE movement

Fossil fuel companies may challenge SAFE policies in the hopes of preserving business as usual, but if they're done right, the rules can (and do!) hold up in court. Local governments have had their rules upheld in South Portland, Maine and in Portland, Oregon.

If you're already working in your community on fossil fuels, environmental justice, climate, pollution, toxics, etc.

Yes, your group can make SAFE work part of your efforts. You can get your group involved by clicking here. Once you do that we’ll reach out by email to get you information on next steps.

Yes, groups can be part of the SAFE network and movement under their own names.

The SAFE approach is about stopping future projects, but through the SAFE network and Stand.earth staff you can get connected to people who can help with projects that are already online or approved. If you already have one project in or coming to your community, others are likely to follow. SAFE can help you stop those future projects.

For local government leaders

Check the SAFE map and see if others are already organizing in your area. From there you can sign up to join an existing group or start your own. Or, you can sign up to get involved by clicking here. Once you do that we’ll reach out by email to get you information on next steps.

Additionally, you can check out our resources page for local government leaders which includes a briefing note on how passing SAFE policies can protect public health and safety, tackle equity and help secure a green and just recovery from COVID, along with sample ordinances from other places that have passed policies in the US.

That's great! Please fill out this brief form so we can get a sense of you're working on or have already passed. Once you do that we’ll reach out by email to connect on how we can best assist you and your community.

Already dozens of towns and counties in the US, from San Jose CA to King County WA and Baltimore MD, have passed SAFE policies, along with a handful in Canada. And communities are working to pass SAFE policies in cities, ports, counties, regional districts and tribal jurisdictions.

Visit our interactive map to learn more about places that have passed SAFE policies here.

Yes, we will connect you with other elected officials working on SAFE policies, legal experts, and other resources.