What are SAFE Cities?

SAFE cities, counties and other communities are passing local laws to stop new fossil fuel projects

SAFE is a movement of neighbours, local groups, and elected officials taking concrete and lasting action to protect communities and address the climate crisis. Put simply: we’re a growing network of cities, counties and other communities Standing Against Fossil Fuel Expansion.

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 LNG facility. The SAFE places movement wants to end all that by blocking fossil fuel infrastructure projects before they’re even proposed – it's time to stop playing defense, and go on the offensive.

SAFE policies are being championed by local elected leaders who are committed to climate action and protecting public health and safety from the risks of fossil fuels.  Already a handful of communities across the US are deploying local land use powers to pass policies that reduce explosion, spill, and pollution risks. These policies can include opposing new fossil fuel infrastructure, affirming a commitment to the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement, committing to energy efficiency, committing to a future of electrification and renewable energy, and/or developing financial strategies to ensure that no one’s left behind. As a first step, local governments can pass resolutions that describe their intent to pass SAFE policies, explore fair financing structures, and propose policies to help them reach their climate action goals.

It’s time to grow these successes into an international movement of SAFE cities, SAFE counties and, heck, even SAFE countries that have all taken important steps towards ending fossil fuel expansion wherever they can.

Want to make your community the next SAFE place?


Cities, counties, ports, provinces and even whole countries can become SAFE places. 

Already more than half a dozen towns and counties across the US have passed SAFE policies, along with a handful of countries (way to go France, Costa Rica, Belize, and New Zealand!). Beyond the examples here, in the last few months even more SAFE policies have been proposed across Washington state, in what's becoming a growing regional movement.

Here are the places that have been leading the way:

Whatcom County, Washington

In the northern part of Washington State, local organizers with Stand.earth and RE Sources For Sustainable Communities worked for years to defeat a proposed coal terminal. Then they joined together with allies on the Whatcom County Council and in 2016 they passed a temporary stop, or moratorium, on all new unrefined fossil export facilities. Now, the local organizers are working with allies on the County Council to make these protections permanent.

Cherry Point county council meeting

Photo credit: Henry Stewart-Wood

South Portland, Maine

Whatcom isn't alone – in 2014, dedicated residents of South Portland, Maine mounted a winning campaign to keep tar sands out of their community. Following more than a year of effort, the South Portland, Maine City Council passed a policy to block the transport of tar sands through their community.

South Portland organizers celebrate after blocking tar sands - photo by Protect South Portland

Photo credit: Protect South Portland

Portland, Oregon

In 2016, Portland, Oregon became the first major municipality to ban bulk storage of fossil fuels, effectively stopping oil trains from running through the city. And when Big Oil and their allies sued Portland, Portland won.

Portland - cities lead on climate

Photo by Rick Rappaport

Baltimore, Maryland

And in 2017, after an oil train project was stopped in Baltimore, organizers from Clean Water Action Maryland and the Chesapeake Climate Action Network heard about the success in Portland, Oregon. They worked with champions on the Baltimore, Maryland city council to pass a land use ordinance to prevent the build out of any new oil train facilities in the city.

 Baltimore blocks fossil fuel infrastructure - Photo by Clean Water Action Photo by Clean Water Action

Photo by Clean Water Action