Dear Fossil Fuel Industry: Thanks, But No Thanks

Nicholas Caleb

The City of Portland is now considering a legal framework that would take the national lead on climate policy and protecting the health and safety of local residents.

Dear Fossil Fuel Industry: Thanks, But No Thanks

In 2015, Portland was twice the subject of national news. In July, the New Yorker published an article about the potential for an enormous earthquake in the Northwest. Later that month, local activists teamed up with Greenpeace climbers to dramatically blockade the Fennica, a ship carrying mission critical equipment for Shell’s Arctic oil drilling operations (since abandoned). Importantly, the #ShellNo blockade built off of the momentum of a big local story; the multi-generational, energetic, and creative climate activists who, in the Spring, launched an aggressive campaign that ultimately convinced Mayor Charlie Hales to reverse his previous support for an enormous propane export terminal planned at the Port of Portland. These stories captured the cultural imaginary and highlighted the immanent dangers of regional seismic instability and global climate chaos.

In response, the City of Portland is now considering a legal framework that would take the national lead on climate policy and protecting the health and safety of local residents. I could spend a lot of text explaining the regional and global significance of this action (it’s big), but because the resolution is so beautifully drafted, comprehensive, and persuasively makes its own case, I’ll simply present it as is:

Oppose expansion of infrastructure whose primary purpose is transporting or storing fossil fuels in or through Portland or adjacent waterways (Resolution)

WHEREAS, the rapid development of fossil fuel resources in the western U.S. and Canada has resulted in numerous facility and infrastructure projects proposed to transport coal, diluted bitumen, natural gas, propane or other fossil fuels through the West Coast; and

WHEREAS, fossil fuels pose risks to safety, health, and livability, including mobility of people, other freight, and other commercial vehicles; and

WHEREAS, fossil fuel infrastructure poses considerable risks in the event of a major earthquake; and

WHEREAS, the extraction and combustion of fossil fuels are significant sources of greenhouse gas emissions and major contributors to climate change and pollution; and

WHEREAS, coal contains toxic heavy metals, including mercury, arsenic and lead, and exposure to these toxic heavy metals is linked to cancer, birth defects and other health problems; and

WHEREAS, transportation of coal using open top rail cars results in significant volumes of materials escaping during transit, exposing communities to toxic heavy metals in coal dust and particulates at levels potentially harmful to adjacent communities, workers, wildlife and nature; and

WHEREAS, crude oil, including oil derived from the Bakken shale reservoir, is known to be volatile, highly flammable and to contain elevated levels of benzene, a potent carcinogen; and

WHEREAS, extraction of fossil fuels through fracking and tar sands processing, which has become widespread throughout the Western United States and Canada, has especially damaging impacts to human and environmental health; and

WHEREAS, transporting crude oil, coal and other fossil fuels into Oregon involves traversing challenging mountain passes, areas laced with significant earthquake faults and numerous older unsafe bridges lacking appropriate infrastructure maintenance or upgrades, significantly increasing the risks of serious accidents; and

WHEREAS, given the record of crude oil and coal or other fossil fuel transport accidents, such as Lac Mégantic in 2013, the 1999 Bellingham pipeline leak or a coal train derailment, an event could have catastrophic effects if it occurred in any of Oregon's populated areas; and

WHEREAS, the risks posed by the transportation of fossil fuels through the Columbia Gorge are inconsistent with the Gorge’s designation as a National Scenic Area; and

WHEREAS, historically, when environmental accidents do occur, litigation over damages is drawn out over years, deflecting blame while undercutting timely assistance to affected communities; and

WHEREAS, tribal communities in Oregon and Washington have expressed concerns about the safety risks of fossil fuel infrastructure and the related threats to human health, cultural heritage, and environmental quality; and

WHEREAS, economic opportunities presented by fossil fuel infrastructure are modest, with few jobs and little value added when compared to the related environmental costs; and

WHEREAS, local, regional and global economies are transitioning to low-carbon energy sources, and West Coast businesses are leaders in providing energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies and services; and

WHEREAS, the future of the fossil fuel industry is questionable given global action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; and

WHEREAS, climate change, if unchecked, will continue impact human health, natural systems, and infrastructure, creating new costs for individuals, businesses, and governments; and

WHEREAS, the City’s 2015 Climate Action Plan (adopted by Resolution 37135) identifies the need to establish a “fossil fuel export policy that considers lifecycle emissions, safety, economics, neighborhood livability and environmental impacts” (Climate Action Plan, action 3G, page 69); and

WHEREAS, the City and Multnomah County, working together with many individuals, and community and business partners, have reduced local carbon emissions 14 percent since 1990 while adding population and jobs; on a per person basis, carbon emissions have decreased 35 percent since 1990; and

WHEREAS, the 2015 Climate Action Plan commits the City to continue to advance policy and programs to reduce local fossil fuel use both in the City’s own operations and through community-wide initiatives; and

WHEREAS, in September 2015, the Council added fossil fuel companies to the City’s Corporate Securities Do-Not-Buy List, committing the City to hold no financial stake in the 200 largest fossil fuel firms. Resolution 37153; and

WHEREAS, 27 Oregon and Washington communities have passed resolutions addressing fossil fuel transport and export, and hundreds of public officials, including the governors of Oregon and Washington, state and federal agencies, tribes, health organizations, religious leaders and other community leaders, have recognized the harms presented by fossil fuels to the environment and Northwest communities; and

WHEREAS, in 2012, the Council expressed opposition to coal trains traveling through Portland until a programmatic, comprehensive and area-wide Environmental Impact Statement and comprehensive Health Impact Assessment are completed. Resolutions 36959 and 36962; and

WHEREAS, the City is continuing to work with utilities to reduce coal and other fossil fuels in Portland’s electricity supply;

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the City Council will actively oppose expansion of infrastructure whose primary purpose is transporting or storing fossil fuels in or through Portland or adjacent waterways; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that City bureaus are directed to examine existing laws, including those related to public health, safety, building, electrical, nuisance, and fire codes, and develop recommendations to address fossil fuels that strengthen public health and safety; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability is directed to develop proposed code changes for Council consideration to advance the policies set forth in this Resolution; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that this Resolution is not intended to restrict improvements in the safety or efficiency of existing infrastructure, or to restrict the provision of service directly to end users; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the City shall consult with its Tribal Government Partners, the State of Oregon, and local governments in advancing this policy; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, this resolution is binding City policy.

The City of Portland will hold a hearing on this resolution at 2:30 PM on Wednesday, November 4th (Facebook event page). Please help this resolution pass by calling and emailing the commissioners as well as testifying at the hearing (wear red!).

Mayor Charlie Hales: 503-823-4120; [email protected]

Commissioner Amanda Fritz: 503-8823-3008; [email protected]

Commissioner Nick Fish: 503-823-3589; [email protected]

Commissioner Steve Novick: 503-823-4682; [email protected]

Commissioner Dan Saltzman: 503-823-4151; [email protected]

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