We deserve to live in a safe, healthy city with clean air, a stable climate, and without the looming threat of oil train explosions. That’s why thousands of Portlanders have spent years taking action — in the streets, in the City Hall chamber, in boats blocking oil ships on the Willamette, and more — to stop Zenith Energy’s dangerous oil-by-rail operations.

But at the end of last year, City Council turned its back on us, deciding to grant Zenith a land use permit. This allowed the company to continue bringing in crude oil trains for 5 more years

City Council’s decision was a shock, as the City hadn’t made an effort to gather public input before granting the permit. Then this summer, records requests revealed the truth behind City Council’s decision: that Council members had struck a backdoor deal with Zenith Energy ensuring Zenith would receive its permit.

BREAKING NEWS:  Now, a Portland City Auditor has confirmed what we already knew: Zenith Energy violated lobbying code by holding closed door meetings with members of City Council in 2022, which led to City Council granting the company a key permit to continue their oil train operations. See coverage in Street Roots and The Oregonian.

“Zenith had failed to register as a lobbying entity, auditors said. The unexpected approval of a so-called land-use credential for Zenith came after the city had previously denied it and defended that denial in court. The approval is key in Zenith gaining a new air quality permit with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality for its terminal.”

– The Oregonian

“As Street Roots reported in August 2023, city officials met repeatedly with Zenith, a Houston-based fossil fuel company with a history of violating safety and emissions requirements, to approve the [Land Use Compatibility Statement (LUCS)] … ‘It is more likely than not that Zenith Energy participated in the above communications in order to gain approval of their LUCS,’ the auditor’s letter said. The auditor’s office declined to issue civil penalties, instead issuing a warning and letter of education. …

Public records obtained by Street Roots revealed Zenith Energy and city staff, including Commissioners Dan Ryan and Carmen Rubio, quietly coordinated to approve a land use permit as the company sued the city in 2022.

‘Zenith Energy has never been registered as a lobbying entity with the city of Portland, including during the third quarter of 2022,’ the auditor’s letter said. … The auditor’s letter referenced a string of text messages between Rebecca Esau, then-director of the Bureau of Development Services, and Grady Reamer, Zenith’s vice president of operations between Sept. 2, 2022 and Oct. 3, 2022. The city approved the LUCS on Oct. 3, 2022. …

Nick Caleb, climate and energy attorney at climate advocacy nonprofit Breach Collective, provided Street Roots with the records showing city officials operated internally to ensure approval despite considerable public opposition. He said the lobbying violations are not unexpected, given Zenith’s history of skirting regulations. … When Zenith applied for a permit to add 32 new rail spots at its facility in 2018, Zenith promised DEQ no new oil throughput and no increase in emissions or pollutants. However, Zenith reports filed with DEQ show a steady increase in throughput every year since 2019.

‘I’m glad that the City Auditor is holding Zenith accountable for its part, and now we need state regulators to hold city officials accountable as well,’ Caleb said.” — Street Roots

So what’s next in the fight to Stop Zenith?

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is reviewing Zenith’s air quality permit application, which Zenith needs approved to expand their oil-by-rail operations.

TAKE ACTION, WED, APRIL 17 — Tell the Oregon Dept. of Environmental Quality: No air quality permits for Zenith Energy!

On Wednesday, April 17, the Oregon Dept. of Environmental Quality (DEQ) will be hosting an Info Session on Zenith Energy’s application for a Title 5 Air Quality Discharge Permit. We know the truth: Zenith’s dirty fuels operations in our community has only exacerbated our poor air quality, putting all of us at risk.

Join the DEQ Info Session on Wed, April 17, at 6:30PM on Zoom to ask the DEQ tough questions about this permitting process (zoom info below). If you are planning on attending the session and want to ask a question of the DEQ, email me (Dineen) at dineen@350pdx.org

Link to join the Zoom meeting
Join via phone: Call: (360) 209-5623 or (888) 475-4499 (Toll Free)
Webinar ID: 823 8828 5042
Passcode: 230541
More information from DEQ here.

Thank you for all you do for climate justice and for this campaign. Together, we believe that we will win! We just have to keep on the pressure.

Let’s do this!

Dineen O’Rourke, 350PDX Campaign Manager

P.S. Want to see a run-down of actions Portlanders have taken over the years to stop Zenith’s oil by rail? Check out our blog post from last September.