Portland Passes Its’ Second Fossil Fuel Resolution

Portland passes its’ second fossil fuel resolution, opposing the further expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure.

Press Release from Columbia Riverkeeper

Nov. 12, 2015 (Portland, OR) –Today, on Nov. 12, 2015, the City of Portland passed a strong resolution to oppose the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure. (This landmark resolution will direct city staff to develop rules that lead Portland away from new fossil fuel projects like coal, oil, and propane terminals, and toward a clean energy future.)

Statement on Portland’s Fossil Fuel Resolution by Brett VandenHeuvel, Executive Director of Columbia Riverkeeper:

City Hall and Portland Public Service Building by D Coetzee via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)
City Hall and Portland Public Service Building by D Coetzee via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)

“It’s the teeth that matter. The City of Portland took a stand today against dirty fossil fuels. It passed a resolution—with teeth—against new fossil fuel transportation and storage infrastructure in Portland and on our iconic rivers. Portland’s resolution will make an on-the-ground difference. The City Council directs staff to propose changes to the City’s code that will protect Portlanders from dirty fossil fuels. City rules about land use, public health, safety, building, electrical, nuisance, and fire can all be updated to prevent fossil fuel exports. In other words, the City Council said: do something! Write laws that matter!”

FAQ On Portland’s Fossil Fuel Resolution

1. Why does it matter?

The Pacific Northwest is threatened by unprecedented projects to export coal, oil, and gas through our region. Policy resolutions are fine, but Portland’s resolution will make an on-the-ground difference. The City Council directs staff to propose changes to city laws to protect Portlanders from dirty fossil fuels. City laws about land use, public health, safety, building, electrical, nuisance, and fire can all be updated to prevent fossil fuel impacts. Portland’s resolution takes a strong stand against this fossil fuel infrastructure and has the teeth to succeed.

2. Is this the first of its kind?

Yes. Other cities have passed strong resolutions opposing fossil fuel infrastructure, but Portland’s directive to change city law to protect against fossil fuel transport creates the strongest resolution in America.

3. Can the resolution stop fossil fuel projects?

Yes. Portland and other municipalities have broad authority to protect the health, safety, and welfare of its residents. Specifically, Portland can use land use zoning, public health and safety laws, and fire codes to determine what type of industry is proper. For example, Portland recently rejected a propane export terminal proposed by Pembina because the terminal violated city zoning to protect the Columbia River. The Pembina example demonstrates that Portland has real authority to approve or deny fossil fuel terminals.

4. What about federal preemption? Is the resolution just symbolic?

Portland Mayor Charles Hales
Portland Mayor Charles Hales

Due to federal preemption, Portland cannot block all fossil fuel transport. Federal law, for example, limits city regulations of trains and interstate pipelines. Portland is taking a smart approach by asking city planners to do everything they can, within the law, to stop fossil fuel transport and infrastructure. Example: While Portland cannot block all oil trains, Portland does have the authority to deny an oil shipping terminal if the project violates land use zoning or fire codes. This would have the effect of preventing all the oil trains needed to serve the terminal. The resolution, therefore, is not just symbolic.

5. Can other cities do this?

Yes. Many cities and towns are concerned about the impacts of fossil fuel infrastructure. Each municipality should undertake a review of existing laws and consider whether changes are needed. The significance of Portland’s action will be magnified as more cities take action.

6. Does this mean no more gas stations?

No. Portland’s resolution states it is not intended to restrict service to end users, such as cars, ships, or homes. The resolution also does not restrict the improvements in the safety or efficiency of existing infrastructure.

7. How does Portland’s resolution relate to climate talks in Paris?

Portland is taking action as a climate leader now, regardless of what happens in Paris. Instead of waiting for a top-down federal government climate policy, cities can act today to address fossil fuels and climate change. Cities can also lead by example and send a powerful message to the delegates in Paris that climate action matters. Mayor Charlie Hales will travel to Paris to share Portland’s plan and encourage others to take real steps forward.

– FAQ answers by Brett VandenHeuvel, Columbia Riverkeeper. Brett is an attorney with expertise in federal preemption and local authority. Contact him at 503.348.2436 or bv@columbiariverkeeper.org.

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