Portland Rejects Permit for Zenith Energy to Expand By Building Three New Pipes

This doesn't shut down the facility or limit oil trains, but it does mean the city is willing to hold the line on its regulations limiting fossil fuel infrastructure.

Portland police arrest an environmental protester at Zenith Energy on April 22, 2019. (Allison Place)

The city of Portland has rejected an application by Zenith Energy to build three new pipes capable of carrying fossil fuels under city streets.

Citing the city's ban on expanding fossil fuel infrastructure, officials with the Office of Community Technology rejected the permit application.

"In its request, Zenith acknowledged that 'the proposed new pipes will be physically capable of transporting fossil fuels….' the Oct. 18 letter from Office of Community Technology interim director Elizabeth Perez states.  "However, in 2015 the City Council adopted binding City policy to oppose the expansion of infrastructure for transporting or storing fossil fuels in or through Portland or adjacent waterways."

The Office of Community Technology handles franchise agreements, and the use of city streets for pipeline falls under their purview.

Representatives of Zenith Energy and Mayor Ted Wheeler did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Environmental groups have been fighting Zenith Energy's use of the site for oil trains. Nothing in this decision prevents the use of the site for those purposes, but a decision to block further expansion of the infrastructure was considered a necessary step.

A coalition of environmental groups had called on the city to block the expansion of facilities there, citing not just the city's ban on new fossil fuel infrastructure but also the danger of other chemicals that the pipes might carry.

"We strongly urge OCT to consider the binding City policies that an approval would violate and the significant risk to public health and the environment these new pipes would create," the Oct. 11 letter from Erin Saylor, staff attorney for the nonprofit group Columbia Riverkeeper, on behalf of a more than a dozen environmental groups.

Update, Oct. 22, 10:30 a.m.:

Mayor Ted Wheeler supports the decision, says spokesperson Eileen Park.

And environmental advocates heralded the decision. "It's encouraging to see the City taking the obvious actions against this reckless company," said Ella Shriner, a member of the Portland Youth Climate Council, in a statement. "The next step is shutting down Zenith's operations completely. Youth will keep showing up until we are no longer at risk of climate-degrading infrastructure in our city."

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