In a stunning reversal, Portland’s Mayor Charlie Hales withdrew his support for the proposed Pembina LPG export terminal and pulled a final vote on the proposal off the City Council’s agenda for early June with no plans to reschedule. The move comes on the heels of an unprecedented outpouring of opposition to the project from a diverse coalition of community leaders and climate activists and experts in the fields of public health, sustainable economics, and disaster modeling. From the standpoint of land use and economic development policy, Mayor Hales’ decision was a smart one.
Center for Sustainable Economy provided expert testimony on these policy issues twice during the planning process. In our filings, CSE noted that the City’s intent to bend the rules of its land use code to accommodate the $500 million project was seriously out of sync with both economic development and climate action plans put in place after extensive public involvement over the past decade. We argued that using scarce Port of Portland lands to facilitate a $6 billion-a-year foreign company’s exports of fracked gas in order to help China be more competitive in production of plastics could not be further from Portland’s recently achieved title of ‘climate champion,’ or further from the City’s vision of sustainable and equitable economic development.
We also noted serious deficiencies in the environmental, economic, social and energy analysis (EESE) prepared for the proposal. For example, no actual environmental impacts were quantified and addressed in the EESE and not a single negative economic consequence (like increased costs of policing and disaster response) was discussed even in a qualitative sense. Oregon’s land use laws contain unambiguous requirements for a balanced treatment of impacts, both negative and positive in the EESE. But official filings from both Pembina and the Port instead read like an ad for the project rather than an objective analysis.
Apparently, the lopsided environmental analysis along with public safety and climate concerns were enough to persuade the Mayor to change his mind. Although the Mayor was a strong supporter of the project early on, he did say from the beginning that he was concerned about the safety of the export terminal and whether the project meets Portland’s environmental standards. In a statement provided to the Oregonian, Hales said “I think both the Port and Pembina have failed to make the case.”
It remains to be seen whether Pembina will find a way around the Mayor’s opposition and the land use protections that now preclude the proposal. For now, Portland is safe from this major threat. But stopping new fossil fuel infrastructure is just the first step towards addressing a problem that spans decades – the extensive network of mines, wells, pipelines, export terminals and distribution systems for coal, oil and gas that keep us locked into a pattern of fossil fuel extraction and consumption that must be drastically curtailed. Ultimately, and in light of scientific consensus that we need to leave at least 80% of proven fossil fuel reserves in the ground, CSE believes that we should begin the process of dismantling and cleaning up this fossil fuel infrastructure to reduce public health and safety threats and make room for sustainable economic development. Adding to it is simply not an option. We will be pursuing this goal in Portland and other cities as they update and refine their climate, land use, and economic development strategies in the years ahead.