In December 2016, the City of Portland took a major step against the expansion of dirty fossil fuels and toward climate justice by unanimously adopting citywide restrictions on bulk fossil fuel infrastructure. The City amended its zoning code to restrict new fossil fuel storage facilities greater than 2 million gallons and prohibit expansion of existing facilities. The restrictions were adopted, in part, as a response to a proposed propane terminal along the Columbia River in Portland that was vigorously opposed by conservation organizations and community groups. The zoning amendments were the first of their kind in the nation and marked a win for climate advocates. Ever since, the fossil fuel industry has attempted to undermine the law.
Crag is proudly representing Columbia Riverkeeper, Center for Sustainable Economy, Audubon Society of Portland, and Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility to defend these critical restrictions. Each of these groups comes at this issue from a particular angle: public health, wildlife, clean air and water, safety, climate, or renewable energy. Together we are empowering these organizations’ members and the residents of Portland to protect their community from threats to their health and safety.
What's at Stake
Portland is at a crossroads. Without this ordinance, Portland would likely become a gateway for fossil fuel export. New pipelines and storage facilities could arise across the city, injecting harmful pollutants into our air and water while exacerbating the dangerous effects of climate change. This infrastructure would pose a major safety risk to everyone who lives, works, or plays in nearby areas, which are often some of the city’s most vulnerable populations. Already, multiple large fossil fuel facilities on the Northwest part of the river are vulnerable to liquefaction being built on unstable soil, which could lead to an explosion or fuel leakage. Needless to say, these hazards are unacceptable. The ordinance provides substantial improvements while ensuring no such facilities will be constructed in the future.
This ordinance has marked an important step in the climate justice movement. Climate change affects everyone in the Pacific Northwest through rising sea levels, more frequent droughts, stronger wildfires, or declining water quality. We can no longer rely on dirty energy which compromises our environment and human health. This ordinance is helping the City of Portland transition toward a clean energy economy and more sustainable future. The people of Portland and their elected officials have made their voices heard. We cannot allow the fossil fuel industry to turn back the clock and ruin our hard-fought progress.
When it comes to protecting the climate, we have often found ourselves playing defense against massive fossil fuel development proposals that threaten our communities and environment. In the Pacific Northwest, we have experienced an onslaught of fossil fuel export proposals over the past decade. One of which was a large propane export facility proposed at the Port of Portland’s Terminal 6, and the Mayor and City were ready to support it. A strong and diverse coalition was developed and lobbied the Mayor, City Council, and other City Leadership to oppose such a dangerous and climate-devastating project. After thousands of letters, phone calls, and several jam-packed public hearings, Mayor Hales heard the peoples’ voices and chose not to move the proposal forward. Not satisfied with simply stopping a single bad project, the coalition wanted to make sure that no expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure would be allowed in Portland. At the end of 2016, City Council passed the monumental fossil fuel infrastructure restrictions.
Shortly after the City adopted the zoning amendments, the fossil fuel industry challenged the law before the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA). They contended that the restrictions discriminated against and burdened interstate commerce in violation of the Constitution. We stepped up on behalf of our clients to defend the law alongside the City.
Although the board sided with the industry opponents, we challenged that decision and won before the Oregon Court of Appeals. The appeals court held that the restrictions did not violate the Dormant Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution and reversed the board. The Court of Appeals ruled that restrictions on the size and location of fossil fuel developments were “an exercise of local authority over a particularly local concern.” The Court noted the City of Portland’s legitimate interests in limiting fossil fuel infrastructure in high-risk earthquake liquefaction zones, reducing the risk of fires, explosions and train derailments, and protecting public health from fossil fuel related pollution. The decision opens the door for local governments to continue to take meaningful action to combat climate change.
This decision demonstrated the power of local communities to stand up for our future and to push for a transition away from fossil fuels. However, the fossil fuel industry once again sought to invalidate the ordinance by filing for a review at the Oregon Supreme Court.
In July 2018, the Oregon Supreme Court declined to review the ruling, dealing another blow to the legal challenges brought by the Portland Business Alliance and the oil industry. This decision sent a strong message that now is the time to take action to protect our future.
The Portland Fossil Fuel Ordinance was worked on by a coalition of groups including Portland Audubon, 350PDX, Columbia Riverkeeper, Climate Action Coalition, Friends of the Columbia Gorge, Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility, Center for Sustainable Economy, the Oregon Chapter Sierra Club, Sightline Institute and more.
Since the limitation was enacted in 2016, we have represented Columbia Riverkeeper, Center for Sustainable Economy, Audubon Society of Portland, and Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility in coming to the ordinance’s defense.
“We are encouraged by the Court’s rejection of the fossil fuel industry’s effort to defeat local action to protect our climate and communities from the dangers of fossil fuels. Right now, it is up to local communities to stand up for our future and to push back against the fossil fuel industry.” -Maura Fahey, Staff Attorney