Charlotte Amalie 𑁋 Senator Janelle K. Sarauw thanked “stakeholders for their valuable input on Bill No. 33-0300,” in a Friday statement. The bill, introduced by Sarauw and signed into law by Governor Albert Bryan Jr. placed limits on approving new licenses for gas stations throughout the territory for five years.
The new legislation amends title 27 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 9, subchapter I by adding a section to establish a numerical limitation on the licenses issued for gasoline stations upon the completion of a five-year territory-wide moratorium on the issuance of business licenses for gasoline stations. Bryan signed the moratorium into law on Thursday.
“The Virgin Islands is oversaturated with gas stations, and the manner and frequency in which we continuously permit their development will eventually deplete our limited land resources with no regard for the comprehensive needs of the people of this Territory – both now, and in the future,” Sarauw said.
A petition to limit the buildout of future gas stations in the territory gained over one-thousand signatures as the issue peaked with residents. A number of activists, organizing mostly on social media as Covid-19 continues to affect the local economy made the issue hard for lawmakers to ignore. The resounding argument was simple: gas stations are also a public health crisis.
“There is no community need. We have 32 gas stations on the 32 square mile island of St. Thomas,” the petition reads. “For comparison, there are 32 gas stations on the 82 square miles that make up St. Croix. There are 3 gas stations on the 19 miles that is St. John.”
The intent of the moratorium serves to halt the spot permitting and licensing practice, during which time legislation will be introduced to establish a new zone [Zone G] for gas stations.
As nations begin to contemplate what a future without fossil fuels might look like, the U.S. Virgin Islands has seemingly doubled down on its petroleum dependence. In late 2019, the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority lost its sole provider of propane after several setbacks — including a category one hurricane and a cash shortage — forced the territory to use more expensive means of energy production.
“To the community members and activists, I thank you for your engagement and input towards the shared community goal of preserving our land resources, particularly related to the overpopulation of gas stations,” Sarauw added. “Collectively, I believe we can strike the balance between economic opportunity and conservation.”
The law — which would be enforced by the Bryan administration — added a stopgap policy to future permits, limiting the approval of new gas station permits for the next five years. If the department fails to produce a comprehensive plan in line with the bill’s timeline, the ban on further development will continue unchanged.
Sarauw’s office said that it would collaborate with her colleagues, the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, community members, and other stakeholders, to comprehensively study, review and determine the permissible conditions, areas/mapping, and limitations needed for future gas stations.