UPDATE #2: Portland Fossil Fuel Policy Zoning Heads Back to City Council

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

A governmental journey of a thousand miles begins with scaling multiple bureaucratic mountains – a step at a time.  Portland’s path to Keep It In the Ground – working to ban new fossil fuel storage and export infrastructure – got major trailblazing from the Planning & Sustainability Commission (PSC) this week.  We are now on track for groundbreaking new zoning code amendments.

So please Save the Dates: the mayor has scheduled a public hearing for Thursday, November 10, at 2 p.m., with the City Council votes planned for Thursday, November 17.  As always, please wear red.

The high-level backstory, critically important for carrying momentum through to the City Council, was this: in split votes, the PSC basically rejected false equivalency.  Governmental agencies – like the Bureau of Planning & Sustainability (BPS) – have long felt obligated to balance stakeholders, theoretically treating everyone as equal in a Civics 101 sense.

Of course, some animals were always more equal than others: typically, on zoning, it was developers and business special interests.  But the classic theory that everyone has a valid tale to tell no longer works on energy and sustainability issues, because of the rapidly-expanding climate crisis.

BPS has done some terrific work on this, but it is difficult for an agency to recognize that the fossil fuel industries cannot be allowed to be the deciders any longer.  Thankfully, an educated and courageous majority on the Planning & Sustainability Commission generally rejected the weakest parts of the newest BPS recommendations.  Notably, the PSC unanimously refused to carve out special exemptions from the most important infrastructure limits for Northwest Natural.   Overall, the PSC will be giving the City Council a pretty good road map for this effort at a climate landmark.

There are still some stumble-spots on the trail, of course, and we’ll be working with eco-coalition partners* to identify to the City Council how to smooth those out.  We will give you the full detailed wonk-post in the near future.

In the meantime, if you run into the mayor or a city commissioner at, say, a political event, or the grocery store, be sure to mention that:

 Just like false equivalency has been a core fallacy in our nation’s presidential race**, so too it is a dangerous trap on the path to solving the climate crisis.

The City Council’s core responsibility is to defend the commitments in their November 2015 binding policy resolution to ban new fossil fuel storage and export infrastructure.  Let’s make that happen!

* Columbia Riverkeeper, Audubon of Portland, 350PDX, Center for Sustainable Economy, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and many others.

** Sierra Club has endorsed former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

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