IT’S WEIRD to say, but last week’s presidential devastation came at a poignant time for Portland. Just as the nation braces for the leadership of a man who’s promised to ramp-up fossil fuels’ role in American life, City Hall is setting to work clamping it down.
Fulfilling a pledge made a year before, Portland City Council on Thursday took up a set of zoning changes that would make the city a national leader in nixing new fossil fuels terminals within its bounds.
The ordinance before council would create special zoning rules for terminals that store two million gallons of fossil fuels or more—about the amount of oil that can be transported in one train. Additional terminals of that size wouldn’t be permitted in Portland.
The rule change would also restrict expansion of the massive “tank farms” that already line the riverbank in Northwest Portland. They’re facilities that supply fuels to the entire region, but which aren’t built to withstand our inevitable earthquake. (They could make the recent natural gas explosion that rocked Northwest 23rd Avenue look like a firecracker, city staffers say.)
The city’s willing to allow existing terminals some expansion, provided they commit to seismic upgrades, but what the final rules will look like is in flux.
Portland’s been working up this rule change since late last year, when Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Amanda Fritz introduced resolutions opposing fossil fuels facilities in the city. Even so, the specter of Donald Trump’s presidency loomed large over last week’s hearing.
“Now more than ever, we need local action,” Susan Anderson, director of the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, told City Council. “We can’t rely on a future president who doesn’t believe climate change is real.”
Which is correct! But opinions on the rules are all over the place.
Climate activists packed council chambers last week to implore the city to outlaw any and all new fuels facilities. Energy industry reps came to predict dire woes if Portland cracks down on their operations.
The rules are “short sighted and very self-centered,” Rob Mathers, an employee of energy giant Kinder Morgan, told the council. “It’s going to lead to disinvestment and it’s going to lead to these facilities being stranded.”
Hales didn’t bother to pretend he cared about Mathers’ opinion.
”We’re not going to agree with the industry on this,” he said.
The city’s own account of the rule changes does make clear there could be negative impacts. They speak of tax revenue and jobs that could be lost, including “middle wage, industrial job growth that disproportionately benefits workers of color.”
It won’t be enough to dissuade City Council, which figures to make the changes final early next month.
Nor should it be. At a time when we have a president plotting to gut the US Environmental Protection Agency, tweeting that man-made climate change is a Chinese hoax, and actually appointing a fucking climate change skeptic to lead his EPA transition, this is the least we can do to stand up for the direction in which our country should be headed.
It’s a baby step, sure. But these days, that feels like all we’ve got.