LUBA upholds City’s right to deny fossil fuel expansion


Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals Rules Portland Has Authority to Deny Zenith Oil Storage Facility Permits; Must Make Additional Findings

On February 3, 2022, Oregon’s Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA) upheld the City of Portland’s authority to deny Zenith’s Land Use Compatibility Statement (LUCS) but is requiring the City to provide more support for its decision. This is a huge win that sends a clear message to fossil fuel companies that an industrial zone address does not give them a free pass to expand.

“This is a significant victory for the community and the climate. It is essential that the City of Portland has the authority to review massive fossil fuel facilities for compatibility with the City’s goals and policies that are focused on climate, equity, public health, and natural hazards.”

Maura Fahey

Staff Attorney, Crag Law Center, Crag Law Center

What happened?

To operate its existing crude oil-by-rail terminal, Zenith, located in NW Portland, needed to provide DEQ with a LUCS from the City of Portland. Without a LUCS, Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) cannot issue Zenith a renewal air permit. Without an air permit, Zenith cannot continue to operate its dirty, dangerous oil-by-rail operations.  

In August, the City denied Zenith’s application for a LUCS on the grounds that Zenith’s oil-by-rail facility runs afoul of numerous goals and policies in the City’s 2035 Comprehensive Plan. Zenith immediately appealed the City’s decision to LUBA, arguing that the City does not have the authority to apply the goals and policies of its Comprehensive Plan directly to the facility. Instead, Zenith argued that its facility is in compliance with the zoning code and that is all that the City can consider.  

Crag represented Columbia Riverkeeper and Willamette Riverkeeper to intervene in the LUBA proceeding to support the City’s defense of its decision.


“This decision sends a clear message that cities and counties are not powerless in the face of expanding fossil fuel projects. We applaud the City of Portland for taking a stand against Zenith’s dangerous and dirty operation, and celebrate LUBA’s affirmation of the City’s legal right to take that stand.”  

Erin Saylor

Staff Attorney, Columbia Riverkeeper

What is at stake?

In recent years, Zenith engaged in a significant intensification of its existing terminal operations, including the storage and transfer of crude oil—even though the company assured regulators that wasn’t the plan. By denying the LUCS, the City exercised its authority over Zenith to protect residents and the climate.  

What happens next?

The City will have to get to work providing the support for its decision. Zenith will also likely appeal LUBA’s decision. And we will continue to work hard to ensure the City’s decision stands and is well supported.  


Dig deeper into our work to challenge Zenith Energy’s expansion of its oil-by-rail operation in Portland.

Learn about Columbia Riverkeeper’s work to fight this dirty oil-by-rail project.

Read LUBA’s decision.

Our Clients

In response to Zenith’s attempts to expand their fossil fuel infrastructure, coalitions, organizers and community members came together in opposition. Over the past years and months, many community members spoke out in testimonials, wrote comments and marched in protest. The fight against Zenith has been a major team effort.

Columbia Riverkeeper’s mission is to restore and protect the water quality of the Columbia River and all life connected to it, from the headwaters to the Pacific Ocean. Columbia Riverkeeper is a nonprofit organization with over 16,000 members who live, work and recreate throughout the Columbia River Basin.


Since 1996, the nonprofit organization Willamette Riverkeeper has worked to protect and restore the Willamette River’s water quality and habitat. Willamette Riverkeeper advocates, educates and conducts on-the-ground projects to benefit the river’s ecological health. With offices in Eugene and Portland, Willamette Riverkeeper has thousands of members throughout Portland and the Willamette Valley.



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