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Portland Council Unanimously Approves Bulk Fossil Fuel Terminal Ban


Gas storage tanks are visible at the Shell Oil terminal in Portland, Friday, April 25, 2008.

Gas storage tanks are visible at the Shell Oil terminal in Portland, Friday, April 25, 2008.

Don Ryan/AP

The Portland City Council adopted a package of bills Wednesday aimed at reducing the city’s reliance on fossil fuels and cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Notably, the council voted unanimously to ban new bulk fossil fuel storage facilities in the city.

“I am very proud of this day” said Mayor Charlie Hales, casting his vote.

According to zoning code changes adopted by the City Council, existing fossil fuel tank farms, translating facilities and terminals could only expand their existing storage tanks by 10 percent.

But the law carves out a broad exemption for end users of fossil fuel — meaning that a gas station or airport, for example, could expand its fuel storage facilities.

In effect, the code changes target fossil fuel export facilities — without specifically mentioning exports — in an effort to avoid a conflict with federal authority to regulate interstate and international commerce.

In recent years, multinational energy companies have proposed building coal, petroleum and liquefied natural gas export terminals in the Northwest to better access Asian markets where the fuels command higher prices.

The move follows a vote by the City Council in Vancouver, Washington, earlier this year to ban oil terminals within the city limits. However, that vote did not apply to an oil-by-rail facility proposed for the Port of Vancouver, which would be the largest in the country.

Local climate activists and environmental groups lobbied hard for the Portland measure and celebrated its passage. 

“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 the climate action group 350 PDX.

The ban only applies within the city of Portland, but could influence fuel markets statewide. The Olympia pipeline, which delivers fuel from Washington refineries to Oregon, terminates in Portland. And petroleum terminals clustered in the Linnton portion of Portland’s Northwest Industrial district serve about 90 percent of the state market.

“We’re concerned that it could create a bottleneck in the state’s energy supply that would have implications for the economy and households throughout Oregon,” said Marion Haynes, with the Portland Business Alliance.

But Haynes said at present the Alliance is not planning a legal challenge to the zoning code changes.

Oregon congressman Greg Walden, who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the ban. 

Portland Commissioner Steve Novick, who along with Hales counts himself a climate change activist, cautioned that efforts to limit fossil fuel supply will have a limited effect on climate change.

“I think we’ve learned from the war on drugs that interrupting the supply of an addictive substance is a strategy of limited usefulness,” Novick said. “We also very much need to focus on strategies to reduce the demand for fossil fuels, like land use policies and transportation policies and investments that create a community where it is easier for people to bike, walk and take transit.”

The council also voted Wednesday to adopt a new electric vehicle policy that aims to put 50,000 electric vehicles on city streets by 2030, and voted to require home energy audits when houses are placed on the market.

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