Big Oil Money Sinks Maine Tar Sands Ordinance

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"Big Oil Money Sinks Maine Tar Sands Ordinance"

An oil tanker pulls into South Portland, Maine.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty

South Portland, Maine residents narrowly defeated a ballot initiative that would have prevented the Portland-Montreal pipeline operators from building a facility allowing them to use their 70 year-old, 236-mile line to ship tar sands from Canada for export. As of Wednesday morning, the town’s website showed opponents of the Waterfront Protection Ordinance defeated it by 192 of over 8,700 votes cast.

Protect South Portland, the organization that developed and promoted the referendum, had felt the vote would be close, but their headquarters fell silent when the initial returns were read. The grassroots campaign that began with 4,000 signatures to get the measure on the ballot and ended with over 12,000 doorbells rung in a massive effort to boost turnout was undone by a coalition of oil companies and affiliates who outspent them nearly six to one, investing over $600,000 in this campaign including a $150,000 boost from the American Petroleum Institute.

The company pled its case to voters by insisting that if the ordinance passed, it would be shut down — a proposition local law professor Dave Owen called “a false assumption.” Outgoing mayor Tom Blake, who won his race to maintain a seat on the city council, pulled no punches. “We lost to an industry that I’m ashamed of,” he said. “The money they spent; the lies they told.”

Natalie West, an attorney with Protect South Portland, remained upbeat, calling the vote “a win” because it raised the profile of the issue in the city and sent a clear message that tar sands are not welcome here.

Mayor Blake went on to say that at a special meeting tonight, the council would consider a 180-day moratorium banning new construction on the piers. He expected its unanimous approval, and said all his fellow council members would support a more narrowly crafted measure to “keep tar sands out of South Portland.”

Michael Conathan is the Director of Ocean Policy at the Center for American Progress and resident of South Portland, Maine.

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