A plan to build a massive warehouse complex in Tacoma, Washington, would pave over a large undeveloped space, increase traffic, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, disturb a Superfund site, and jeopardize the city’s aquifer.
Despite these hazards, the City of Tacoma says the project doesn’t need a full environmental review and approved a land use permit for the warehouse.
Earthjustice is appealing that decision on behalf of the community groups 350 Tacoma and the South Tacoma Neighborhood Council. The case fits into Earthjustice’s broader goals of securing clean air and water for all, building a justice centered movement, and moving to zero emissions.
How the warehouse would hurt South Tacoma
- The mega-warehouse complex, located in South Tacoma near houses, apartments, day care facilities, schools, recreational centers, churches, and small businesses, would span 147 acres across a Superfund site. It would also pave over grass, trees, and wetlands.
- Large warehouses attract large volumes of delivery trucks, which typically run on diesel. Diesel emissions are linked to heart and lung damage as well as climate change.
- The Tacoma project plans call for 20 acres of truck courts and parking lots for 1,436 vehicles and will bring many diesel trucks to the area. The project would generate thousands of additional vehicle trips through the area each day.
- South Tacoma residents already suffer from disproportionate levels of pollution. The Tacoma Equity Map categorizes the area as “low” for equity, “low” for environmental health, and “very low” for livability.
- The project sits on top of the South Tacoma aquifer, which currently supplies up to 40% of Tacoma’s drinking water and will increase in importance as climate change fuels drought.
Residents are asking for a full accounting of the project’s environmental impacts.
- In April, Tacoma announced that the warehouse developer did not need to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement in order to receive a permit.
- Under Washington state law, projects that are likely to do significant harm to climate, water, and other aspects of the environment do require a full environmental review. Therefore, the community groups represented by Earthjustice are appealing Tacoma’s decision.
- Environmental Impact Statements help the government accurately weigh the risks and benefits of projects. They also give communities important information and an opportunity to weigh in on environmental decision making, because the community gets a chance to comment on a project’s potential impacts after they are fully analyzed.
- Across the country, a boom in e-commerce is driving demand for warehouse space, and these warehouses are often built in communities already overburdened with pollution.
- But many of these communities are fighting back. For example, in 2021, Earthjustice helped environmental justice and conservation groups in Southern California reach a settlement that will mitigate the harm of a warehouse the size of three Central Parks.
What happens next?
- The City of Tacoma Hearing Examiner will hear the appeal. If it succeeds, the permit will be vacated and an Environmental Impact Statement will be required before a permit decision.
- Advocates for environmental review of the project are continuing to raise community awareness.
- In a statement, the South Tacoma Neighborhood Council said: “In South Tacoma and throughout the state and country, people of color and low-income people are disproportionately exposed to harmful air and water pollution and other environmental burdens. Local land use decisions have been a big driver of that environmental injustice. It is high time for the city to start taking a closer look at industrial projects in overburdened communities before greenlighting them.”
- “Washington desperately needs to be cutting back on greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector to meet our climate targets and minimize devastation to our communities,” said Tacoma 350. “We’re confident that a full environmental study will show that the proposed project is incompatible with the progress that the state, county, and city need to make on climate.”
How can I help?
Add your voice to community voices calling for a comprehensive study of the cumulative health impacts of a proposed mega-warehouse and other sources of pollution on South Tacoma!