CSE Staff Attorney to Portland City Council: Stop Zenith!

On the morning of June 5, 2019, the Center for Sustainable Economy’s Staff Attorney Nicholas Caleb gave testimony to Portland City Council about stopping the Zenith oil terminal expansion and planning for a managed decline of the fossil fuel economy. The written comments and video of the testimony are included below.

Good morning councilmembers and Mayor Wheeler. My name is Nicholas Caleb & I’m the Staff Attorney for the Center for Sustainability Economy, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and think-and-do tank working on climate issues in Portland, Oregon, and the United States.

Over the last 6 months, the conversation around climate action has shifted because of two occurrences. First, a new report from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) gives us until 2030 to complete a massive carbon drawdown to keep warming below 1.5C. In essence, we are in a climate emergency. Second, and partially in response to the IPCC report, climate advocates have been successful in raising the popularity of extremely ambitious economic, social, and environmental proposals that have emerged under the label of “Green New Deal”.

As Naomi Klein puts it, “we are left with a stark choice: allow climate disruption to change everything about our world, or change pretty much everything about our economy to avoid that fate.”

Today, we are encouraging you to be bold and to take risks to create the possibility of a future worth living in.

First, be bold in taking on Tar Sands and crude oil exports. This council is well versed in the risks of expanding fossil fuel infrastructure and has taken action in the past to prevent it. You must act boldly again.

June 3rd was the three-year anniversary of the oil train derailment in Mosier, OR. The same year, In 2016, City Council took numerous actions to oppose fossil fuels, including passing a resolution supporting the actions of the Standing Rock Sioux to blockade the Keystone XL pipeline, which would threaten their treaty resources, ancestral lands, natural resources and sacred sites with Tar Sands oil. We must to renew this commitment to all communities who are on the frontlines of resistance to dangerous fossil fuel projects by stopping this project and any more like it. We need you to be disobedient alongside & in support of the climate movement when faced with the machinery that is fueling the collapse. [there are some folks in the audience who put their bodies and liberty on the line at the Zenith terminal]

We must have a public hearing on the Zenith expansion & the threat of crude oil in Portland. We need the Fossil Fuel Terminal Amendments reinstated. And, we require bold city action that forecloses on any fossil fuel industry plans to turn Portland into a Tar Sands & crude oil export hub.

Fossil fuels pose inherent risks from spills, leaks, explosions, and train derailments, & we must move more quickly toward safer alternatives. Two years ago, the City passed its 100% renewable energy resolution and an update on progress was due to council three days ago.

The resolution is binding city policy authorizing a lot of bold city action and, importantly, sets an end date on the fossil fuel industry in Portland, though we should accelerate our goal for a fossil fuel free economy to well before 2050.

Again, it’s time to be bold by planning for the managed decline of fossil fuel infrastructure in Portland, starting with the fossil fuel hub in the Northwest Industrial area where 90-95% of Oregon’s transportation fuels are located along with the gas resources that heat many Portland homes. This is also an incredible opportunity for the community to decide what we want to do with formerly vibrant land and waters of the NW Willamette Waterfront area. Not only are we presented with an opportunity to mitigate harm, but to dream about a future that is better than the present. We must create a feeling — through narrative, policy, and direct action — of the inevitability of the end of the fossil fuel economy.

The fossil fuel industry has near endless resources and many lawyers. They will sue us. They may win sometimes because the law is generally friendly to those with the most access to the political process. But a community in resistance to extinction should be less concerned about the legal costs of acting than the costs of inaction. Like water protectors or the Youth v. Government plaintiffs, we need to dive into uncomfortable waters, assert the right to a healthy atmosphere and stable climate, and win against the odds: again and again and again.

(comments at 9:09)

The testimony was well received by city council with Mayor Wheeler saying that his “first imperative as the mayor of this city is to vociferously fight the expansion of oil trains coming through this community” and also expressed support for a community process to plan a managed decline of the fossil fuel industry in the city. Commissioner Hardesty added that “none of us want the kind of devastation that comes from oil train derailments and explosions.” Commissioner Eudaly ended the discussions by promoting the Sunrise PDX Pedalpalooza bike ride scheduled for Sunday, June 9, at 11 AM at SW Park & Montgomery, which she will attend and speak at.

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