UPDATE: Portland Fossil Fuel Policy Work Moves from F to B-Minus

By Ted Gleichman, policy advisor, Oregon Sierra Club Beyond Gas & Oil Team

Portland’s Bureau of Planning & Sustainability (BPS) has proposed zoning amendments for review by the Planning & Sustainability Commission (PSC) that are substantially less destructive than the agency’s original plan.  But “less bad” does not equal “good.”


BPS was charged with implementing parts of the ban on new fossil fuel infrastructure for export and storage that the City Council approved unanimously last November.  Their original draft zoning amendments were filled with loopholes, and basically gave the industry an open door to unlimited expansion.

BPS was flooded with more than 700 comments to the draft plan, the vast majority calling for a true ban on new fossil fuel infrastructure.

To their credit, agency staff reworked their zoning ordinance proposals with very thorough and diligent staff work.  BPS has now proposed to narrow the opportunities for industry expansion in four important ways:

  1. The new zoning would define “Bulk Fossil Fuel Terminal” as a tank with more than five million gallons of capacity – a tad smaller than the current 300+ tanks in Portland, but still huge.
  2. New Bulk Fossil Fuel Terminals would be banned, but new tanks under five million gallons could still be built so long as they do not include the infrastructure necessary to transload the fuels for export.
  3. Existing Bulk Fossil Fuel Terminals would be defined as “non-conforming uses” – a zoning designation that means ‘they are already here but we don’t want to let them in again.’
  4. Changes and expansions to the non-conforming current Bulk Fossil Fuel Terminals would require approval by a hearings officer after a public hearing.  Any approvals could be challenged in court under land use law (which does not include, for example, increased climate destruction).  Almost all of these tanks are in the earthquake liquefaction zones, on dredged soils along the Willamette River north of downtown Portland – a truly insane place to build or expand anything, but especially not dangerous flammable explosive fossil fuel infrastructure.

The basic problem now is that important parts of these proposals do not yet reflect the clear understanding in the City Council’s binding policy in Resolution No. 37168 to move beyond fossil fuels as quickly as possible.

Activists pack City Hall in Portland

Activists pack City Hall in Portland

The new formal proposal will be reviewed by the Planning & Sustainability Commission on Tuesday, September 13, in an open public hearing at 1900 SW 4th Ave., scheduled to run from 12:30-4:30 pm.  You do not need to be a Portland resident to participate in this critically-important hearing!

The PSC will then decide in early October, after an open meeting without additional testimony, whether to forward any zoning amendments to the City Council for review, possible amendment, and approval.  If they do, the Council itself will hold public hearings and vote in late November or early December.

For more information, or to join in as part of the Oregon Sierra Club team in the September 13 PSC hearing, please contact Ted Gleichman, ted.gleichman@oregon.sierraclub.org, 503-781-2498.  And please stay tuned!

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