Fossil Fuel Policy Testimony at City Council

On July 13th, 2016, Mia Reback and Nick Caleb testified at City Council on the proposed draft code regulations as put forth by the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. The draft falls far short of the intent of the resolution banning new fossil fuel infrastructure as passed by City Council last November. Here is the video of their testimony:

Here is a transcription of the testimony by Nick Caleb: 

Today, I’m here to talk about the fossil fuel infrastructure policy, but before I begin, I’d like to thank council for your willingness to be flexible on the proposed marijuana tax and the potential to use new revenue for clean diesel retrofits.

Regarding the fossil fuel infrastructure policy, city planners recently released the discussion draft for a proposed bulk fossil fuels terminal. In my opinion, this initial proposal runs afoul of what thousands of Portlanders believed they would get out of the resolution when they submitted comments, attended hearings, and ultimately celebrated council for its historic vote in November.

As you’ll recall (since you passed it), the resolution was a declaration that all fossil fuels are inherently dangerous — throughout the entire life-cycle from extraction to transport, storage, and combustion — and that citing new fossil fuel infrastructure in our city is wholly unreasonable because of the compounding risk of a major seismic event. We recently got a taste of just how dangerous fossil fuel infrastructure is when an oil train derailed and caught fire outside of Mosier. It’s a miracle that no one was killed and our Columbia River wasn’t irreparably harmed.

This council showed wisdom & prescience in recognizing the dangers of fossil fuel infrastructure before we had to experience a disaster, but as your resolution is being translated into code, we are quickly moving back to business as usual: a proposal that would not ban new fossil terminals, nor would it halt the expansion of existing fossil fuel infrastructure. In addition, the discussion draft contains nothing that even begins to mitigate the risks to the public from existing fossil fuel infrastructure and the other tank farms in the NW Industrial area. Instead, we are being asked to accept an increase in overall risk to the health and safety of the public and an assumption that expansion will equal seismic upgrades for some facilities with absolutely no mechanism to guarantee it.

Of course, there are no guarantees of 100% safety in this world, but we can be a city that doesn’t compound the risks to the public by allowing a dying industry to dominate our politics and dictate public policy that puts our people and environment at unnecessary risk. After accident upon accident, it is beyond naive to take claims from fossil fuel companies or the railroads at face value. After all, these are the same companies that knowingly engaged in disinformation campaigns around climate change for decades to protect short-term profits at the expense of the future. Many of these same multinationals were part of the city’s stakeholder process, that by my count included 30 representatives from the Port and fossil fuel interests and only 10 representatives of community, environmental, and public health organizations. Unsurprisingly, the discussion draft uncritically accepts their assertions and protects their interests.

Whether intended at the time or not, caveats in the resolution that were introduced as last second amendments are being seized upon by city staff as a rationale to allow an increase in fossil fuel storage and transport in our city.

Our new comprehensive plan encourages us to regulate fossil fuel infrastructure in line with “regional demand” — which must continually decrease if we are to meet our climate goals — and contains general proscriptions to regulate industrial areas to protect public health and ensure seismic safety.

There’s still time to rescue the spirit of the fossil fuel infrastructure resolution and create policy that responds to the brute facts of climate & seismic danger while paving the way for a 100% renewable energy powered Portland. This is what we expect of you and we are eager to support your continued leadership.

Transcription of Mia Reback testimony

My name is Mia and I’m the staff organizer with 350PDX. We, along with many of our partners, have reviewed the discussion draft put out by BPS (Bureau of Planning and Sustainability). Unfortunately, we believe that this draft falls short of the intent and the intended impact of the resolution passed in November. In the few minutes that I have here today, I want to touch on 3 main points regarding the policy. The first is that the community is expecting a full ban on new fossil fuel development and expansion. Not limitations to growth and limitations to new terminals, but a full ban. Second, climate change is worse than we thought. We now have a newer scientific understanding than we did in November about the magnitude of the crisis, the impacts we’re facing, and the need for bolder action. And third, that we have everything that we need to begin an immediate transition to a 100% renewable economy, both globally and here at home, creating a massive amount of economic stimulus. I think that the opposition we saw to Pembina, the thousands of public comments, as well as the continued following of this issue through last fall, shows that the public is really engaged on climate. We have folks here today just coming out on a morning. People are really ready to see Portland take the lead on a strict ban and moving away from these bulk fossil fuel terminals.

Despite the fact that the resolution is firmly rooted in our opposition to fossil fuels, the proposed discussion draft is actually allowing more fossil fuels. By defining bulk fossil fuels and then allowing them, we’re not opposing them. I think also it’s important to note that the amount of fossil fuels that we’re allowing, if the discussion draft were to move forward, flies in the face of so many of our local policies. For example, the current proposal would allow new oil terminals up to 500,000 barrels per day. That would take about 7 oil trains, mile long crude trains, coming through Portland to fill a terminal like that. In the wake of Mosier we have a resolution against oil trains, as well as our local and state goals for carbon reduction. We can’t be building new terminals of that magnitude, let alone the risk that they provide to immediate health and safety, because there is not a requirement in this proposal for seismic resilience. There is an assumption in the current proposal that allowing companies to increase their terminal storage size will lead to a benevolent increase in seismic resilience. However, we’re looking for our council to take strong leadership on requiring these terminals to upgrade for health and safety, and not allow sacrifice zones in our community.

By burning fossil fuels at any stage, we’re turning the world into a sacrifice zone. In Paris, world leaders set a goal to cap global warming at 1.5 degrees celsius. We’ve likely locked ourselves in to that amount of warming, and really need an immediate transition away from fossil fuel use at every level around the world in order to cap global warming to a safe limit for humanity. It’s already a life and death issue for many people around the world, including in the U.S. where we had 23 people die from flooding already this spring, and that’s something that we cannot allow.

Just to wrap up really quickly, I’ve submitted a report for you all today that was released last week by the Labor Network for Sustainability, and it shows that more jobs can be generated through investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency than the same dollar investments in oil, coal, and natural gas infrastructure. To read a paragraph in the report as my closing words: “This transition will not happen by itself. Because energy infrastructure is based on long-term investment and planning, it must be guided by economic strategies that are sustainable in the long term. The transition to worker and community-friendly clean energy will require deliberate decisions at every level of government.” We the community hope to work with the council as well as staff at the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability to ensure that we do take that deliberate step to ban fossil fuels. Thank you all.