Portland blocks Zenith's plans for new fossil fuel pipeline
Portland has blocked a proposed expansion of pipeline at a controversial fossil fuel storage facility in Northwest Portland.
On Friday, Oct. 18, an office controlled by Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler officially rejected the application to build three new underground pipes linking the Zenith Energy site on Front Avenue with Willamette River shipping terminals across the street.
"I am deeply dedicated to protecting our environment," Wheeler said in a statement.
Zenith project manager Dirk Kramer had promised the pipes would exclusively be used to export biodiesel and methylene diphenyl diisocyanate — a chemical primarily used to manufacture polyurethane insulation — not tar sands oil, which arrives at the site via tanker trains.
But city officials nixed the idea, saying the city's regulatory agency for utilities, the Office for Community Technology, didn't have enough staff or experience to handle oversight. The office has 10 full-time employees, and fewer than six are tasked with monitoring every utility in Portland.
"OCT does not perform periodic field inspections on any other franchisee's infrastructure, and OCT is not willing to depart from precedent and take on these additional unique responsibilities required by Zenith's proposed condition," according to a letter from the office's interim director, Elisabeth Perez, to Zenith.
Perez additionally noted that Zenith missed recent deadlines with the city, saying the global firm blew past its May 15 deadline for paying last year's franchise fees, and hasn't even submitted the written report calculating those fees yet.
A representative for Zenith said the company was "disappointed" by the decision, and says it paid the outstanding fees on Oct. 21. Environmental groups, who blockaded the rails leading to the facility multiples times in April, trumpeted the decision.
"Zenith's new pipes could have freed up existing infrastructure to ship even more tar sands," said Nicholas Caleb, staff attorney at the Center for Sustainable Economy.
"It's encouraging to see the city taking the obvious actions against this reckless company," added Portland Youth Climate Council member Ella Shriner. "The next step is shutting down Zenith's operations completely."
The city's letter cites a policy blocking the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure, which was adopted by vote in 2015. The rule was actually remanded after being challenged in court, but a spokesman for the Bureau of Development Services says it's "still intact."
"It's still on record," said bureau spokesman Alex Cousins. "The city's position has not evolved from that."
Using old permits, Zenith constructed several new offloading platform in July, though the company told the Tribune the building shouldn't count as an expansion, since its storage capacity on site didn't change. Earlier this fall, City Hall approved $50,000 for a study of the costs and risks associated with fossil fuel infrastructure in Portland.
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