Groups Call Out Oregon DEQ for Columbia River Ethanol, Oil Terminal Decision

"... Global’s oil-by-rail plans pose a huge risk to people and clean water. ..." -Dan Serres, Conservation Director, Columbia Riverkeeper


Groups Call Out Oregon DEQ for Columbia River Ethanol, Oil Terminal Decision

September 4, 2019 (Portland, OR)—Today, a coalition of public health, environmental, and community groups called out Oregon regulators for ignoring the public’s concerns about air pollution and anticipated oil-by-rail operations at the Global Partners (Global) terminal along the Columbia River. Just over a month after hearing from over one thousand Oregonians opposed to oil-by-rail and concerned about pollution impacts near the terminal, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) issued an air pollution permit to Global for its Columbia County, OR, ethanol facility. Global is already seeking a second permit to use some of the same equipment to facilitate more oil-train shipments along the Columbia River, including through Columbia County towns and the Portland-Vancouver metro area. 

“Governor Brown and state regulators should protect the air we breathe and public safety from Big Oil’s plans to use the Columbia River as a superhighway for dirty fossil fuels,” stated Dan Serres, Conservation Director for Columbia Riverkeeper. “Global’s oil-by-rail plans pose a huge risk to people and clean water. People threatened by dangerous oil trains and air pollution have well-founded concerns that the corporation will use ethanol infrastructure for crude and tar sands oils.”

Global has not produced ethanol for many years. In 2012, the Massachusetts-based oil company began shipping crude oil from the defunct ethanol facility without any public process or notifications. Seemingly overnight, mile-long unit trains carrying explosive crude oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota began traveling through the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, Portland, and Columbia County to the shipping terminal at Port Westward. There, the crude oil was loaded onto ocean-going barges and shipped through the sensitive Columbia River Estuary—the most important juvenile salmon habitat in the Columbia River Basin.

“The oil trains headed to Clatskanie will endanger Vancouver, Portland, the Columbia River and all of Columbia County, and no insurance is available for a worst case scenario,” said Don Steinke of Climate Action of Southwest Washington. 

In 2018, the Port of Columbia County approved a change to Global’s lease allowing the company to handle diluted bitumen, a form of heavy tar sands oil. The permit issued late last week, on August 30, 2019, states that Global “is prohibited from performing the transloading of crude oil” under the permit, but it ignores Global’s stated intention to use the same tanks and equipment to ship oil under a separate permit. DEQ plans to issue a separate permit for Globals’ planned oil operations later this year. 

A local environmental group, Envision Columbia County said, “We suspect that some of the tanks at Global Partners’ ethanol plant at Port Westward will be used to increase the capacity to store and then ship crude oil in this very earthquake-sensitive area along the Columbia River.”

Emilia Ponti, with Mothers for a Safe Columbia County, added, “The health and safety of our families needs to be DEQ’s top concern. Our schools and homes are very close to the rail line that Global Partners wants to use for its heavy oil trains.”

“Global is already on the cusp of being categorized as a major source under the Clean Air Act,” stated Erin Saylor, Staff Attorney for Columbia Riverkeeper. “It is unclear why the agency charged with protecting air quality would capitulate to Big Oil. This permit allows Global to avoid pollution controls by hiding some of its oil storage and transloading activities under the guise of an ethanol operation.”

“The State of Oregon continues to greenlight a project that they know will put our communities at real and immediate risk,” said Bob Sallinger, Conservation Director for Portland Audubon. “We need real leadership from the Governor and the agencies charged with protecting our communities and our environment, but all we are getting right now is bureaucratic excuses.”

"As documented in our report, "Crude Bailout," Global Partners' backers are also invested heavily in Canadian tar sands. Meanwhile, Global Partners is a major donor to Oregon politicians," said Daphne Wysham, Climate Justice Program Director at Center for Sustainable Economy. "This is how our democracy, our health and our environment gets bought, and it's why we need to get all elected officials to reject campaign funds from the fossil fuel industry.”


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