In a landmark victory for climate activists, the Portland, Oregon city council voted yesterday to pass a resolution that opposes any new infrastructure that would transport or store fossil fuels within the city or its adjacent waterways.
The vote, which was unanimous, comes a week after the city council voted to adopt a similar policy opposing any proposed rail projects that would carry crude oil through the city of Portland or Vancouver. Together, the resolutions constitute what environmentalists are calling the strongest city-supported opposition to fossil fuels in the country.
“We seem to be reaching some sort of tipping point where people are waking up and realizing the enormity of the issue,” Adriana Voss-Andreae, director of 350PDX, told ThinkProgress. “That we got a unanimous vote was jaw-dropping. It was an inspiring moment for all of us.”
While Portland cannot, due to interstate commerce laws, unilaterally ban fossil fuels from being shipped via rail, road, or water, it can enact local laws that limit the transportation and storage of fossil fuels within the city itself, especially if those laws are based in environmental or safety concerns. That’s largely the goal of this resolution — to codify into law things like zoning restrictions or restrictions on materials that would make shipping and transporting fossil fuels through Portland either prohibitively expensive, or too time consuming, for fossil fuel companies.
“Our work is not done yet, but we feel that with this unanimous vote, there is good chance that the codifying language is going to be strong and signal to the fossil fuel industry that Portland is not open for their business,” Voss-Andreae said.
Located at the mouth of the Columbia River Gorge, Portland is an important port city for the transport of fossil fuels overseas and has been the site of standoffs between environmentalists and fossil fuel companies for years. In 2014, the Canadian energy company Pembina proposed constructing a propane export terminal in the Port of Portland, which would have received, stored, and shipped some 1.6 million gallons of propane a day. The terminal, which would have cost an estimated $500 million, would have been the single largest private investment project in Portland’s history. At first, Portland Mayor Charlie Hales appeared to support the project, but faced with a groundswell of local opposition, Hales came out in opposition of the project in May of this year.
To the activists that rallied against the project, the stakes were higher than a single export terminal — it was a stand against a future where increasing fossil fuel infrastructure was the political and economic status quo.
“Here you have this pipeline project that, six months ago, was seen as just a simple economic development project, shipping one more thing through the Port of Portland,” Carl Abbott, an urban studies and planning professor at Portland State University, told the Globe and Mail in May of this year. “Now it has gotten caught up in the fear of energy transportation and the cause of global warming and taking a stand against more fossil fuels.”
Earlier this summer, Portland again found itself at the center of the debate about fossil fuels, as a Royal Dutch Shell ship attempted to make its way through Portland and up to the Arctic to aid in Shell’s exploratory drilling efforts. The ship was initially stopped by 13 climbers who hung from Portland’s St. John’s Bridge for 38 hours, impeding the ship’s ability to pass. Eventually, the ship was able to pass through the climbers and leave Portland, but news of the protest spread through social media and national outlets, increasing the visibility of the movement, according to the protesters.
“That whole movement, from Pembina to Shell to divestment, really set the stage for this,” Voss-Andreae said. “This is a very exciting moment for our movement.”