“Despite industry efforts to water down this ordinance, every single person who spoke at the hearing supported the City’s decision to ban expansion at fossil fuel facilities—a decision to prevent harm and reduce a huge potential risk to Portland, people along oil train routes, and downstream communities who depend on the Columbia River.” -Kate Murphy, Community Organizer
Portland City Council Votes To Ban Bulk Fossil Fuel Facilities
Thanks to steadfast community organizing, creative action, and legal advocacy, on Wednesday, August 24, 2022, the Portland City Council passed Portland’s Fossil Fuel Terminal Zoning Amendments (FFTZA). The ordinance protects Portland communities from harmful pollution and safety risks from facilities like new oil train terminals.
Our voices came through loud and clear during the Portland City Council’s June 2022 hearing on the ordinance. Oral testimony was 100% in favor of banning new large fossil fuel facilities, with no expansions allowed for existing ones.
The vote comes after years of delays by the fossil fuel industry and their allies, who twice challenged the ordinance to Oregon’s Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA). Columbia Riverkeeper joined with partner organizations to intervene and defend the policy against industry legal challenges.
You can read the press statement from a coalition of community groups, including Columbia Riverkeeper, who supported a permanent ban on new bulk fossil fuel facilities below.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
After Years of Community Activism, City of Portland Approves Prohibition on New or Expanded Fossil Fuel Terminals for Third Time
Oral testimony from community members was 100% in favor of a permanent restriction on new or expanded fossil fuel facilities
August 24, 2022 (Portland, Ore.) — Today the Portland City Council voted unanimously to approve an ordinance prohibiting new or expanded fossil fuel terminals in Portland, Oregon. This is the third time that the City Council has passed the fossil fuel terminal zoning ordinance. With today’s vote, the City adopted additional findings after the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA) sent the decision back to the City to provide additional information.
“Despite industry efforts to water down this ordinance, every single person who spoke at the hearing supported the City’s decision to ban expansion at fossil fuel facilities—a decision to prevent harm and reduce a huge potential risk to Portland, people along oil train routes, and downstream communities who depend on the Columbia River,” said Kate Murphy, Community Organizer with Columbia Riverkeeper. “We will continue to press the City to reduce risks from flammable fuel storage in Portland, where soils will turn to a cake-batter consistency in a major earthquake and threaten a catastrophic spill that would be devastating to the river, our communities, and the ecosystem.”
Portland’s ordinance grew out of years of community opposition to unsafe, health-harming fossil fuel terminals, such as oil train terminals. During the June 30, 2022, public hearing on the ordinance, everyone who testified supported the City’s decision not to allow expansions of existing fossil fuel storage facilities in Portland’s energy hub—an area vulnerable to major fire and spill risks in the event of an earthquake. Many commenters from across Portland raised concerns about existing or new flammable fuel storage such as biofuels in Portland’s vulnerable communities.
“The City’s ordinance is a good initial step to preventing further harms to communities who already face cumulative health and safety impacts from fossil fuel terminals and other climate and environmental justice issues. This City council decision reflects persistent advocacy from climate concerned groups and individuals going back to the very first vote in the wake of the Mosier oil train derailment in late 2016,” said Cassie Cohen of Portland Harbor Community Coalition. “People in North and Northeast Portland and in this region who are on the frontlines of these industrial sacrifice zones have succeeded in demanding action to address the risks posed by new or expanded flammable, risky fuel terminals.”
“Since 2016, the Portland City Council has fought to make permanent the overwhelming community desire to prevent new, large-scale fossil fuel infrastructure from being sited in Portland,” said Nick Caleb, Climate and Energy Attorney with Breach Collective. “Fossil fuel interests like the Western States Petroleum Association and cronies at the Portland Business Alliance spent – and will likely continue to spend – significant resources to thwart sensible policy that will protect the community and climate, but they will continue to lose. Portland is ready to rapidly transition away from fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy.”
Industry legal challenges have failed to halt this critical first step after two rounds of legal challenges. Columbia Riverkeeper, Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility, Center for Sustainable Economy, and Portland Audubon Society intervened to help successfully defend the City's decision against industry claims that the ordinance was unconstitutional. The community groups were represented by the non-profit Crag Law Center. The groups are prepared to continue to defend the City's action, if necessary.
"This victory is credited to years of grassroots activism from everyday Portlanders who are increasingly concerned about the immense safety risks of an underregulated, dangerous, polluting, and potentially explosive industry in our community,” said Dineen O'Rourke, Campaign Manager with 350PDX. "This original policy was a step in the right direction and became a roadmap for municipalities across the country on how to proactively stop the fossil fuel industry, but it's now 2022 and we need even bolder action to stop the climate crisis."
“The City has taken an important step, but more action must be taken,” said Dr. Theodora Tsongas, member of Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility. “The City must move ahead to strengthen the amendments by removing potential loopholes, requiring seismic safety updates at existing high risk infrastructure, and by establishing enforcement and safety mechanisms for renewable fuel storage. Adding more liquid fuels, renewable or otherwise, does not eliminate the seismic and soil liquefaction risks at the Critical Energy Infrastructure Hub.”
A recent report from Multnomah County and the City of Portland documented the risks posed by existing fossil fuel terminals and found that the expected Cascadia Earthquake could cause 397 storage tanks to release between 94 to 193 million gallons of oil and other petroleum chemicals—equivalent to the 2009 Deepwater Horizon Spill. Today’s vote is the first in a series of actions the City is considering to address the risks of liquid fuel storage in the City.
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