On the morning of February 3rd, 2023, the people of East Palestine, Ohio saw smoke rising from the train tracks running through town. The Norfolk Southern freight train had derailed from the tracks, crashing 38 train cars. Fire rose from the cars and they started to burn, releasing dangerous petrochemicals into the air, mostly vinyl chloride which is highly carcinogenic. In the weeks since, residents of East Palestine and nearby communities have reported alarming symptoms following the derailment.

Sierra Lynn, a resident of neighboring town Leetonia, Ohio, shared how she felt the affects of the smoke over 10 miles away. “I have asthma, and when I went outside the night of the release, I felt it immediately. You could smell chlorine in the air. I was instantly coughing,” Lynn said. Other locals have been experiencing rashes, migraines, sore throats, burning eyes, and dizziness. (Read the full story at Earth.org)

There is an ongoing Senate hearing on this disaster, and many unanswered questions about the long-term health affects that locals may experience. But one this is clear: railroad corporations like Norfolk Southern have long prioritized their bottom line over the safety of their employees and local communities. Norfolk Southern itself has lobbied heavily against safety regulations, adopted precision scheduling practices that cut costs but are less safe, and spread misinformation to cover up the dangers of their practices.

Sound familiar? Here in Portland, Zenith Energy has a similar history of spreading misinformation while running dangerous oil trains through our communities. And similarly, if one of those trains were to derail, we would face dire consequences to our health and safety. 

A dangerous train derailment has already happened here in Oregon, too. On June 3rd, 2016 in Mosier, Oregon, a small town along the Columbia Gorge, 16 cars on a Union Pacific train derailed, spilling 42,000 gallons of oil and igniting a fire that took 14 hours to extinguish. We are lucky it wasn’t worse; the accident happened to occur on an unusually calm day for the typically windy Gorge area.

Local officials should be doing whatever they can to remove dangerous oil trains from our communities and hold Zenith Energy accountable, but instead they’re allowing Zenith to expand its operations. At the end of last year, the City of Portland quietly approved a land use permit for Zenith, paving the way for the company to continue transporting crude oil by rail for 5 more years before supposedly transitioning to “renewable” fuels.

With this approval, the City turned its back on nearly 50 neighborhood associations, Multnomah County, 20 state legislators, dozens of environmental and community organizations, and thousands of Portland residents who all expressed concern over Zenith Energy and originally urged the City to deny this permit. What’s worse is that this decision was made without any community input on the process.

We need to send Portland City Council members a reminder that they swore an oath to protect and serve the people of Portland, NOT a Texas-based oil company whose business plan destroys the climate and threatens our city’s very existence. It’s important we continue to keep the pressure on the City and make our message loud and clear:

Call & email City Council to demand they rescind the LUCS Permit for Zenith Energy:

Click here for sample language you can share when you call & to sign the pledge of resistance.

In the event of an oil or chemical train derailment, the U.S. Department of Transportation identifies a .5 mile radius on each side of the train tracks as a federal evacuation zone (shown in red in the above map) and a 1 mile radius “impact zone” (shown in yellow). While many other factors (wind, amount spilled, type of chemical released, nearby structures, etc.) could determine an impact area even larger than this, this map gives us a general sense of who would be most impacted by a derailment in our community and why we need to prepare ourselves and stop oil-by-rail all together.

Use this map above to type in your address and see if you live in or near the “Blast Zone. If you live in this area, your voice in this fight really matters. You have a personal stake in this issue and City Council should personally hear from you. Use the phone numbers and email addresses above to share your concerns with Portland City Council, and join our Fossil Fuel Resistance Team to get more involved in our campaign to stop Zenith Energy.

We deserve a City Council that stands with us, and is willing to stand up against corporations that are putting Portlanders in harms way. Join us in calling on our Councilors to do their job and say NO to 5 more years of dangerous oil trains!

In solidarity,

Dineen O’Rourke,
Campaign Manager, 350PDX

P.S. Watch a compelling video about this from our friends at Mosquito Fleet!