Portland Poised To Curtail New Fossil Fuel Infrastructure

By Roy L Hales


At a time when the United States government appears to be falling under the control of the fossil fuel sector, cities are taking the lead in transitioning to a cleaner economy. In Oregon, for example, Portland is poised to curtail new fossil fuel infrastructure.

Portland Poised To Curtail New Fossil Fuel Infrastructure

Mayor Charles Hales at the November 10 Rally in Portland - Courtesy 350PDX
Mayor Charles Hales at the November 10 Rally in Portland – Courtesy 350PDX

Last year the city passed a resolution to oppose the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure. The next step was to draft develop rules that are legally enforceable. This has been done and, yesterday,  Council members voted 3-0 to pass the resulting amendments. On December 8, city  council will make its’ final decision.

“We expect it to pass, the question is whether all five members will vote for it and the decision will be unanimous,” said Dan Serres, Conservation Director of Columbia Riverkeeper.

Using Oregon’s Planned Land Use System

He explained, “Oregon has a long standing planned use land system that generally gives cities a pretty wide latitude to determine what sort of uses are appropriate and different zones. So the city is using that system to address the fossil fuel issue.”

All Photos Courtesy 350PDX

“What is interesting is they were careful not to try to regulate railroads, which would have run them directly into interstate commerce. Rather they looked at large tanks, fossil fuels and the storage of coal as the type of use they would regulate within certain zones. That is the legal authority they are working from.”[1. Roy L Hales interview with Dan Serres, Conservation Director of Columbia Riverkeeper]

if approved on December 8th, Portland’s new ordinance will:

  • 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).

Transportation Hub For Fossil Fuels

Scenes from the November 10 Rally in Portland - Courtesy 350PDX
Scenes from the November 10 Rally in Portland – Courtesy 350PDX

“Portland is a very significant transportation hub for fossil fuels in Oregon and Southwest Washington. It is by far the largest city, but recognizes that  other towns are also dependent on the hub that exists here.  That is why the city and council of Portland thought it was appropriate to allow the existing fossil fuel infrastructure to operate for the foreseeable future,” said Serres.

“What Portland is very clearly saying is we do not want to become a trafficker of fossil fuels to the entire Pacific Rim. ,That is an important statement that will hopefully resonate with other communities like Vancouver (WA) which took its’ own stand against oil by rail.”

A Template Other Cities Can Use

All Photos Courtesy 350 PDX
All Photos Courtesy 350 PDX

“This vote is setting up a template that other cities can use, particularly cities like Portland that are targeted for large terminal infrastructure,” said Serres.

Regna Merritt, Healthy Climate Program Director of Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility pointed out that, “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.”

“Change has always come from the bottom up, from people taking to the streets and then showing up to influence better policy. City by city we can, and will, ensure the steps are taken to rapidly transition away from fossil fuels, protecting the very essence of life on planet earth,” said Mia Reback, Lead Organizer for 350 PDX.

“We will continue to accelerate this work even if we don’t have a responsible partner at the federal level,” added Mayor Charles Hales.


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