Portland Poised to Make History with New Protections from Fossil Fuels

After the second of two public hearings, Portland City Council is poised to set a historic national precedent by halting the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure and prohibiting new fossil fuel terminals as well as expansions of existing facilities within Portland.  At Wednesday’s hearing, Council members voted 3-0 on amendments that further restrict fossil fuel infrastructure. While the final vote is scheduled for December 8, the Council made its intentions clear today: the fossil fuel industry will not grow in the City of Portland. The vote was met with a standing ovation from enthusiastic community members who were instrumental in shaping this proposal over the last year.

Portland Mayor Charlie Hales speaks to the crowd at the pre-hearing rally outside Portland City Hall on November 10th.  Photo by Dragon.

Portland Mayor Charlie Hales speaks to the crowd at the pre-hearing rally outside Portland City Hall on November 10th. Photo by Dragon.

Mayor Charlie Hales addressed the crowd gathered, many of whom had waited hours to speak. He said, “At a time when we’re worried about democracy, it’s still alive here in Portland. U.S. cities are still able to lead on climate and clean energy: we will continue to accelerate this work even if we don’t have a responsible partner at the federal level.”

Portland City Council’s new zoning amendments will implement its Fossil Fuel Policy Resolution #37168. The resolution, passed in November 2015, stated that the City would “actively oppose expansion of infrastructure whose primary purpose is transporting or storing fossil fuels in or through Portland or adjacent waterways.”

Dan Serres, Conservation Director of Columbia Riverkeeper stated, “Portland City Council is shining a light towards a cleaner path. If approved on the 8th, their action will prevent more oil train accidents and protect smaller communities like Mosier, Oregon, where an oil train derailed and burned spectacularly in June. This is a sensible policy that deserves a unanimous vote of support on December 8th.”

Micah Meskel, Conservation Field Coordinator at Audubon Society of Portland said, “Today we saw the power of the grassroots prevail, as Council listened to the community and took steps to further strengthen their proposal. Next month’s vote will solidify a historic action by the City and at the same time set a bright example of how the grassroots can make a difference.”

Steve McCoy, attorney for Friends of the Gorge said, “Today, Mayor Hales and Commissioners Fritz and Novick took a bold step to protect the people and the resources of Portland and the Columbia River Gorge from more trains carrying dangerous fossil fuels. We applaud them for their courage and foresight and look forward to the final decision on December 8th.”

Regna Merritt, Healthy Climate Program Director of Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility stated, “Low-income populations and communities of color experience the worst impacts of fossil fuels and climate disruption. We are on the verge of a huge victory for the health and safety of our community.”

The City’s intent is clear—to use the City’s policy to hasten a transition away from dirty, dangerous fossil fuels. On November 10th at Portland’s City Council hearing, hundreds attended and urged bold action on the part of the Mayor and Commissioners. Mosier Mayor Arlene Burns, tribal representatives, and others most at risk from dangerous oil trains testified in support of proposed code amendments. Impressive testimony given by young students opened and closed the public comment period. Council members listened carefully and responded with clear improvements to the proposed zoning amendments.

As amended today and if approved on December 8th, Portland’s ordinance would:

  • Prohibit expansion of existing bulk fossil fuel storage tanks
  • Limit new tanks to a capacity of 2 million gallons or less
  • Prevent aggregation of small terminals
  • Prevent all new coal storage capacity (there are currently no coal export facilities in the City of Portland).

Notably, Portland’s Planning and Sustainability Commission and Portland’s City Council declined to exempt certain fossil fuel companies such as NW Natural, or weaken the ordinance at the request of oil terminal operator Kinder Morgan.

Regna Merritt, Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility 971-235- 7643 regna@oregonpsr.org

Dan Serres, Columbia Riverkeeper 503-890-2441 dan@columbiariverkeeper.org