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Portland City Council Readopts Fossil Fuel Restrictions

By Cassandra Profita (OPB)
Dec. 18, 2019 11:45 p.m.

The Portland City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to reapprove its 2016 ordinance banning the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure.

The rule prohibits the expansion of fossil fuel storage tank capacity at existing terminals and limits the size of new developments. The restrictions don't apply to renewable fuels, aviation fuel or projects that upgrade or replace existing fossil fuel infrastructure.

Fuel tanks sit along the river bank in Portland.

Fuel tanks sit along the river bank in Portland.

OPB File Photo

The emergency ordinance went into effect immediately after its passage.

The council also approved several amendments to the rule that bolster the findings used to support the original ordinance and ensure that it is compliant with new city zoning codes and the Guild's Lake Industrial Sanctuary Plan.

The original ordinance was challenged by industry groups and the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals overturned the rule.


The Oregon Court of Appeals reversed many of the land board's findings but upheld part of its decision, and in October LUBA remanded the ordinance so the city could make the necessary amendments.

In Oregon, tanks located in North Portland supply about 90% of the fossil fuels used statewide.

In response to questions about whether the new ordinance will create a problem for the state's fossil fuel supply, the city added findings related to future of fossil fuel use, which is is projected to remain at its current level nationwide.

With the city and state aiming to reduce fossil fuel use through various policies and incentives, officials concluded the city's restrictions will allow for enough capacity to serve the region's needs in the future.

Mayor Ted Wheeler said he sees the ordinance as the one step of many that are needed to transition away from fossil fuels and reduce safety and environmental risks to the community.

"Continuing to allow more fossil fuel and additional storage tank capacity is a threat to our community from a public safety perspective, from a public health perspective and from an environmental perspective," he said before the vote. "By allowing more terminals we also undermine our local and global efforts to transition off of fuels that lead to climate change."

Dan Serres with the environmental group Columbia Riverkeeper said said the recent oil train derailment in Saskatchewan was a reminder of why he and others don't want oil-by-rail projects in Portland. He said he is hoping the city's fossil fuel ordinance will quash projects like the Zenith Energy oil terminal in the city's northwest industrial area.

“Getting this code into place is a very important protection so that we don’t see more projects like Zenith pop up in the future,” he said. "For people who are worried about the risks these large fossil fuel projects pose to Portland, this is a really important step."

Serres said the city could go even further by considering additional seismic regulations for the northwest industrial area, where large volumes of petroleum are stored in tanks that will likely fail in an earthquake and are sitting on soil that will liquefy.