The construction of new fossil fuel terminals and the expansion of existing ones were both outlawed by the Portland, Oregon, city council in 2016.
Climate activists praised the innovative tactic at the time, according to Inside Climate News, which noted that it was perhaps the first time a community has used zoning regulations to restrict the use of fossil fuels.
350PDX organizer Mia Reback said in a statement at the time that Portland is taking courageous measures to protect our city from the immediate risks of fossil fuels while sending a strong message to other cities throughout the country and the world that the grassroots movement will not let national politics deter cities from taking the lead on climate action.
But, not everyone agreed with Portland’s ordinance, which has been modified and altered since it was first adopted. According to Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB), the state of Montana and four fossil fuel trade associations filed a lawsuit against the city on Tuesday over a policy they claim discriminates against interstate trade.
Austin Knudsen, the attorney general of Montana, claimed in a news statement that the Portland government is purposefully and artificially impeding the construction of new and expanded infrastructure in order to further its politically motivated climate action plan.
Furthermore, Portland’s hypocritical regulations stifle the development of Montana industries and employees’ energy goods while attempting to shield its own inhabitants from the repercussions of its naive decisions.
According to Inside Climate News, the Portland ordinance prohibits Bulk Fossil Fuel Terminals in all zoning districts after classifying them as a new land use category.
Bulk fossil fuel terminals are those that store at least two million gallons of fossil fuels and are connected to the pipeline, rail, or marine transit infrastructure. According to OPB, the policy was revised in 2019 and 2022.
According to Reuters, the Portland regulation does allow for some exceptions to supply fuel to petrol stations, airports, and the terminals that were in place before the prohibition, which mostly support local businesses.
The lawsuit claims that the policy discriminates against out-of-state enterprises and is based on these exceptions. As a result, it offends the U.S. Constitution’s due process, foreign commerce, and dormant commerce clauses, according to a press statement from the Montana Department of Justice.
According to Reuters, Montana is particularly concerned because the restriction prevents it and other midwestern fuels from reaching Asian markets.
The Western Energy Alliance, Pacific Propane Gas Association, Idaho Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, and Christensen, Inc. are the industry plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which was filed in the Portland Division of the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon.
But, as OPB noted, Portland’s ordinance has in the past weathered judicial challenges. After it was passed, the Western States Petroleum Association filed a lawsuit to stop it. The Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals concluded that the policy may be kept in place but that moving forward, the city would need to provide additional evidence to support it.
The Oregon Court of Appeals dismissed a different complaint in 2018 for the same reason it would defend the policy again in this case: Portland’s current fossil fuel terminals are situated along a section of the Willamette River that is earthquake-prone.
A study conducted in 2020 revealed that an earthquake might result in a spill of at least 95 million gallons from these ports and result in damages of up to $2.6 billion. It wouldn’t be helpful to add more gasoline to the fire, as the saying goes.
Lawyer Nick Caleb of the climate-justice group Breach Collective told OPB that there are currently a lot of recordings of the horrifying information about what will happen to the Willamette River shoreline during an earthquake. I’m hoping the federal court will concur that preventing the risk from growing serves a legitimate aim.