Major Victory for Local Climate Action
Portland policy restricting fossil fuels upheld
last updated October 5, 2023
Activists celebrating the passage of the landmark climate policy by the Portland City Council in 2016. Photo by Rick Rappaport.
Victory! In a major win for local climate action, the Portland city ordinance that restricts new and expanded fossil fuel infrastructure was upheld!
The landmark city ordinance protects Portlanders from the 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.
Together, we win.
For years, our clients Columbia Riverkeeper, Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility, and Portland Audubon have fought to help defend this policy. This huge win shows that when community-led grassroots organizing and litigation are used hand in hand, we can balance the scales of justice!
After three rounds of public process before the City Council and three subsequent legal challenges to the historic policy, the Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA) has finally rejected all of the arguments brought by the fossil fuel industry opponents against the zoning amendments.
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.
Why this policy is important
- 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.
- 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’ ultimate goal is to see Portland’s fossil fuel ordinance serve as a model for other local communities. Additionally, they work 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.
As of October 2023, there is a pending federal lawsuit challenging the Fossil Fuel Terminal Zoning Amendments. We are continuing to track the federal lawsuit with our clients and will evaluate opportunities to support the City as the case progresses.