City Council passes resolution to prevent more crude oil-carrying trains in PortlandBy James Cronin, Nov 5, 2015, 7:04am PST
Portland City Council on Wednesday passed one of two resolutions on banning fossil fuel expansion in Portland while tabling the other until next week.
Commissioners, facing a standing-room only crowd at City Hall, passed a resolution opposing the increase of crude oil-carrying trains in and around the city. The second resolution, which opposes expansion of infrastructure whose primary purpose is transporting or storing fossil fuels in or through Portland or adjacent waterways, was tabled until Nov. 12.
The contentious topic has pitted environmentalists who want dirty fuels to be a thing of the past against economic development hawks that see sizable financial investments and job creation in things like propane pipelines and natural gas terminals.
The battle landed in City Hall Wednesday, where sign-carrying activists gathered outside as Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Amanda Fritz proposed their joint resolutions. The hearing garnered so much interest that city officials needed to open an overflow room to accommodate the crowd.
Scores of residents, activists and industry types filled the hall. Some carried small dowels with red and yellow ribbons attached. When speakers extolled Portland’s curbing of greenhouse gases or other perceived environmental wins, attendees shook their ribbons in rustling applause.
“Communities along the Columbia River are faced with an unprecedented and new threat — the idea of moving vast quantities of fossil fuels in oil trains down the Columbia River in trains that are known to derail, spill and ignite,” Dan Serres, conservation director for environmental group Columbia Riverkeeper, told the council. “The oil train resolution you are considering is both timely and appropriate because there are over a hundred trains per week that could be headed down the Columbia River. A spill in the Columbia River would decimate salmon habitat, disrupt river traffic and threaten drinking water supplies downstream.”
The resolutions resulted from Mayor Charlie Hales’ about-face on Pembina Pipeline Corp.’s planned $500 million propane terminal at the Port of Portland this summer, which he helped to stall after initially supporting the project.
Hales refused to bring a necessary environmental amendment for the project to the full city council for a hearing and potentially a vote, and went on to create the resolutions to ban future fossil fuel expansion.
The scene should be just as robust next week when council resumes its discussion on the second resolution, a broader measure that expands the city’s opposition to fossil fuel developments to projects beyond those that rely on rail cars.
That’s an issue that’s critical to the Port of Portland, which pursued the propane deal with Pembina. Curtis Robinhold, the port’s deputy executive director, said the language in the resolution is so vague that it become unclear exactly what types of energy projects the port could pursue for its property.
“There are no real definitions in the resolutions,” Robinhold said. “They clearly would apply to coal and heavy hydrocarbons like in an oil export terminal, but we don’t have any of those planned anyway. We already said we wouldn’t do coal or crude right now. What about natural gas infrastructure? What about propane? What about LNG (liquefied natural gas) used for ships The shipping industry is shifting to LNG to power vessels, reducing emissions for steaming across the Pacific. We’re not sure what it does or doesn’t apply to. The language is very vague.”