Defending Portland’s policy restricting fossil fuels

Activists celebrate in Portland City Hall after successfully campaigning to pass the first Fossil Fuel ordinance. Photo by Rick Rapaport

Activists celebrating the passage of the landmark climate policy by the Portland City Council in 2016. Photo by Rick Rappaport.

June 27, 2023 | Today, Crag Managing Attorney Maura Fahey argued in front of the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals to protect the City of Portland’s policy restricting new or expanded bulk fossil fuel terminals – for the third time since 2018. Once enacted, the Fossil Fuel Terminal Zoning Amendments would protect Portland communities from harmful pollution and safety risks from facilities like oil storage and transport terminals. 

The City of Portland originally adopted this landmark ordinance in 2016. Ever since, the fossil fuel industry has attempted to undermine the law.

Crag and our clients Columbia Riverkeeper, Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility, and Portland Audubon worked with the City of Portland during the first two rounds of appeals at the Land Use Board of Appeals to ensure the ordinance was upheld as lawful and could be implemented.

“For over seven years, the fossil fuel industry and their allies have tried, and failed, to overturn the Fossil Fuel Terminal Zoning Amendments. This is an important climate policy and zoning amendment passed in accordance with local and statewide land use planning laws. For the third time in a row, our clients are intervening in this case to defend the City’s decision and support the transition away from fossil fuels.”

– Maura Fahey, Crag Managing Attorney

Defending this landmark restriction on bulk fossil fuel terminals is just another example of how we use the legal system to protect our climate: At Crag, we represent clients that help defend good climate policies and stop harmful fossil fuel projects. Crag has been working for many years in support of conservation and community groups opposing fossil fuel infrastructure projects in the Northwest, including coal, natural gas, and crude oil terminal proposals.

Where we are now

In August 2022, the Portland City Council re-adopted its landmark zoning ordinance restricting new or expanded bulk fossil fuel terminals. Local and national fossil fuel industry groups challenged the ordinance for a third time. Crag and our clients are intervening in this case to support the City of Portland defending the City’s legal authority to restrict the expansion of bulk fossil fuel terminals within Portland.

In October 2023, the Land Use Board of Appeals rejected all the fossil fuel industry arguments, and upheld the the city ordinance. Read more about this major local climate victory here

Why this policy is important

Photo by Matheny Collection. The Columbia River has long been a place where indigenous peoples fish, trade, and socialize. Celilo Falls, circa 1952.

Fossil fuels often travel on trains when transported to Portland’s bulk terminals. Photo by Stuart Seeger, CC BY 2.0

  • Protecting our communities and culture: Fossil fuels that are transported to Portland’s bulk terminals often travel on trains through north and east Portland, which are primarily low-income and BIPOC communities. And fuels stored in the facilities in the industrial area along the Columbia River pose public safety and health hazards to nearby communities, including threats to traditional and subsistence food resources for Native Tribes who have long lived and relied on the Columbia River.


  • Reducing risk of catastrophic oil spills: More than 90% of Oregon’s liquid fuel is stored in a six-mile industrial area in NW Portland along the Willamette River. In the event of a major earthquake (like the Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake expected to reach Oregon in the next 100 years), the existing storage tanks along the Willamette River would spill over 94 million gallons of oil and petroleum into the river. That’s as devastating as the 2009 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, according to a Multnomah County office of Sustainability report.

In 2021 and 2022, extreme weather events caused $1.8 billion in damages in Oregon. Photo of July 2021 Grandview Fire by Oregon Department of Forestry.

Together, we can safeguard community health. Photo by PNW Productions.

  • Addressing climate change: As we know, fossil fuel emissions are the leading cause of the climate crisis. The creation and expansion of these large scale fossil fuel projects directly contribute to climate change, and these impacts most heavily fall on environmental justice communities. In 2021 and 2022 alone, extreme weather events caused $4.8 billion in damages in the Pacific Northwest, including $1.8 billion in damages in Oregon (Oregon Global Warming Commission 2023 Report).
    Now is not the time to invest in more fossil fuel projects. According to two reports by the Oregon Global Warming Commission, Oregon fell short in meeting its 2020 climate benchmarks by 13% and will also miss its 2021 reduction target by 19%, according to preliminary data.

  • Safeguarding Community Health: Fossil fuel projects threaten the health and safety of the surrounding communities. The exposure to toxic substances from fossil fuel fumes, dust and other pollution is linked to cancer, birth defects and other health problems. There is also the risk of accidents such as train derailment and spills.
Our Clients

Our clients and partners include Columbia Riverkeeper, Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility, and Portland Audubon.

Our clients’ ultimate goal is to see Portland’s fossil fuel ordinance serve as a model for other local communities and to protect the ability of Portland and other local governments to enact laws and policies to combat climate change and protect the safety and well-being of their residents. Building upon the successes and lessons learned from the campaign for Portland’s fossil fuel ordinance, we will work with our clients and other coalition partners to support similar proactive policies to prevent new fossil fuel infrastructure investment in Pacific Northwest communities.



Sign up for our email list | Join Us >>