Oregon’s Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA) overturned Columbia County’s approval of a 400-car rail yard that would have served an unconventional diesel refinery along the lower Columbia.
Community celebrates major setback for proposed refinery and rail yard in the lower Columbia River
In a big win for farmers and clean water, Oregon’s Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA) overturned Columbia County’s approval of a 400-car rail yard that would have served an unconventional diesel refinery along the lower Columbia. Columbia Riverkeeper, 1000 Friends of Oregon, and local mint farmer Mike Seely appealed the approval of the rail yard, and LUBA’s decision is a major setback for Houston-based NEXT Renewables LLC, backer of the refinery and rail yard. LUBA reversed the County’s decision and found that NEXT’s rail yard was not a “branchline,” as the County had concluded.
NEXT had sought permission to build a 400-car rail yard Port Westward, an area near Clatskanie, Oregon, with unstable peat soil, wetlands, homes, farms, and a nearby Buddhist monastery. The rail yard would have allowed long trains to serve a proposed refinery that could produce and store hundreds of millions of gallons of fuel in the Lower Columbia River. Thanks to community opposition, testimony, and excellent legal work from the attorneys at the Crag Law Center who represented us in the case, LUBA overturned Columbia County’s approval of NEXT’s rail yard.
Without approval of the rail yard, NEXT will also be unable to meet the requirements of key state permits, which require local land use authorizations to be complete.
The LUBA decision is a big win, but the fight will continue. State and federal agencies will soon be seeking public comments on the environmental impacts of the project, and NEXT’s path forward to address the rail yard’s incompatibility with Oregon’s land use standards remains unclear given LUBA’s clear decision reversing the County’s approval. In the coming months, we will need your help to hold Oregon, the Army Corps of Engineers, and other decision-makers accountable for protecting the people and environment threatened by NEXT’s pollution.
Take Action: Sign the petition urging local, state, and federal officials to reject additional permits for the NEXT refinery project.
Many people near the proposed refinery have already expressed opposition to the NEXT project. LUBA’s decision is welcome news to these farmers, ranchers, fishers, and residents in the area. We will continue to stand with the community at Port Westward and its allies throughout the region fighting NEXT’s ill-conceived project.
To read more about LUBA’s decision and our response, check out the full press statement from a coalition of groups opposing NEXT (see below).
Why Stopping NEXT Matters
NEXT’s proposed refinery poses major risks for the Columbia River. Through an energy-intensive process—using significant amounts of fracked gas, electricity, and water—the refinery would produce up to 50,000 barrels per day of diesel and other fuels, creating significant air emissions, over 1 million tons of greenhouse gas pollution each year, and serious water pollution risks. Though NEXT calls its product “renewable diesel,” the fracked gas and unsustainable feedstocks that could go into the refinery undermine the company’s claims.
We will continue to stand firm against the NEXT project, whose Houston-based backers have a track record of failed projects and environmental damage. For example, NEXT’s backers were involved in a failed biodiesel facility in Odessa, Washington, and left behind a toxic cleanup site and unpaid bills and taxes. The Port of Longview rejected a refinery proposal from NEXT’s backers after OPB published a detailed story about their failed biodiesel facility in Odessa. In 2020, NEXT’s president was arrested on child sex abuse charges in Texas and fired. In 2022, a key investor in NEXT attempted to gain a seat on the local drainage district board, but he lost the election resoundingly. This track record demonstrates that NEXT can’t be trusted with a proposal to build the largest refinery in Oregon’s history, a major threat to the Lower Columbia.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Farm Protection, Conservation Groups Celebrate Appeals Board Ruling That Rejects Major Rail Yard for Proposed Refinery at Port Westward
On October 27, the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals overturned Columbia County’s approval of a 400-car rail yard for the proposed NEXT refinery at Port Westward.
October 27, 2022 (Salem, Ore.) — Columbia Riverkeeper, 1000 Friends of Oregon, and farmers at Port Westward celebrated a decision by the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA) that overturned Columbia County’s approval of a 400-car rail yard proposed in tandem with a new major refinery at Port Westward. LUBA reversed the County’s decision because the rail yard is not allowed on farm land. Houston-based NEXT Renewables LLC proposes a renewable diesel refinery and rail yard at Port Westward. Local farmers, conservation groups, and neighbors oppose the refinery and rail yard and describe the LUBA decision as a major setback for the project.
“LUBA’s decision exposes a major flaw in NEXT’s proposed refinery—the unmistakable impact of a large rail yard on neighbors and water resources,” said Dan Serres, Conservation Director for Columbia Riverkeeper. “Without this approval, NEXT cannot build the refinery and rail yard, and major state and federal permits remain undecided as well. This is a major setback for the proposed refinery and rail yard, which pose a major threat to the health of the community and clean water in the Lower Columbia River.”
“The decision is a recognition of the importance of Oregon's land use laws - to protect our irreplaceable farm lands, especially in the face of a changing climate,” said Mary Kyle McCurdy, Deputy Director of 1000 Friends of Oregon.
"LUBA got this right. Our farm—which has been here for generations—our business, and our community would be negatively impacted by the rail yard and the refinery,” said Mike Seely, mint farmer at Port Westward. “NEXT came to town promising the moon, including very little use of rail for training in feedstock, like seed oil, from the middle of the continent. Our community saw right through NEXT’s bait-and-switch—adding a 400 car rail yard to the project. We are glad that LUBA saw through it, too.”
Local farmers, clean water advocates, and uprail communities concerned about long trains bisecting Columbia County cities and towns remain adamant that the Port Westward area is better suited to agriculture, forestry, and fisheries than a major new refinery that would produce diesel from fracked gas and unknown feedstocks. The proposed refinery and rail yard would be located among farms, residences, and close to a Buddhist monastery. State and federal agencies have yet to make final decisions on the project, and the Corps is expected to release a draft environmental impact statement in early 2023.
Columbia Riverkeeper, 1000 Friends of Oregon, and Mike Seely are represented by Crag Law Center, a non-profit environmental law center serving Pacific Northwest communities.
Sign the petition urging local, state, and federal officials to reject additional permits for the NEXT refinery project.