Portland denies essential certification from Zenith Energy


An OPB file photo of tank cars on the tracks outside the Zenith Energy oil terminal in Portland. The city dealt a blow to Zenith’s expansion plans on Friday.

Tony Schick / OPB

The city of Portland dealt a major blow to an oil-rail operation on Friday by denying essential certification for Zenith Energy’s controversial oil terminal northwest of Portland.

The Portland Development Services Office denied one land use compatibility statement, or LUCS, which Zenith needed to renew its air quality permit with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. The Texas-based company’s Portland oil terminal receives crude oil and renewable fuels from trains, stores them in tanks, and sends them through pipes to outgoing ships. The company has announced plans to expand its renewable fuel transshipment and shipping business. But it was the transportation of fossil fuels that took Friday’s decision into account.

“The path to this decision was essential – building an appropriate basis of understanding, consensus and the need to consult with tribal governments in the region,” Bureau of Development Services Commissioner Dan Ryan said in a statement. press release sent by email. “We know that the activities at this site and the fossil fuel products transported have the potential to have a direct impact on tribal lands, cultural resources and tribal treaty rights.

A photo taken at Zenith Energy's oil terminal in northwest Portland in May 2020.

A photo taken at Zenith Energy’s oil terminal in northwest Portland in May 2020.

Courtesy of Columbia Riverkeeper

Ryan, who oversees the office, said the move reconfirms the city’s commitment to tackle climate change and reduce the city’s dependence on fossil fuels.

Zenith has announced its intention to appeal the city’s decision.

“We are confident that our operations comply with current zoning codes and the overall city plan,” W. Grady Reamer, vice president of the Texas-based company, said in a statement.

The compatibility statement is equivalent to a local government certification required by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to determine if a company’s plans are compatible with the city or county. full plans and regulations on land use. Zenith needed LUCS in order to renew an air quality permit with DEQ.

In a statement, the company said it was disappointed with the city’s decision, given that its renewable energy transition plan is aligned with the city’s comprehensive 2035 plan.

“Contrary to recent information, Zenith seeks to continue modernizing our terminal, not increasing its capacity. We want to further increase renewable fuels at the expense of fossil fuels, ”said Reamer, who oversees the company’s operations in the United States.

Zenith announced on Thursday an increase of almost three times the quantity of renewable diesel handled and stored in the facility. He also predicted that renewable fuels will make up almost half of the facility’s capacity by 2026.

The city’s decision not to issue the certificate Zenith requested does not reveal whether the company will be able to obtain all the permits it needs to continue operating its oil facility by rail in the future. . Zenith sought to renew the operating permits inherited from the previous owner, who used the facility for asphalt. Zenith acquired the facility in 2017. Since then, it has been operating under an expired air quality permit.

But a decision a year earlier by Portland City Council to ban the expansion of new fossil fuel infrastructure – a position reconfirmed by council in 2019 – complicated matters for Zenith. Zenith argued that since the air quality permit renewal application was submitted before the ban, it is not subject to the city’s ban on expanding fossil fuel infrastructure.

DEQ’s communications director Harry Esteve said the agency would review the city’s decision before determining what effect it might have on DEQ’s decision to renew the air quality permit and a separate application pending for a stormwater construction permit at the site.

The municipal office’s decision gave environmentalists, community advocates and dozens of elected officials cause for celebration. Multnomah County’s five commissioners and more than 20 Oregon state lawmakers had publicly called on the Bureau of Development Services and the commissioner overseeing it, Dan Ryan, to deny Zenith the certification he needed to become develop. In a letter to Ryan and the office, lawmakers argued that a crude oil train derailment or tank spill would be catastrophic for the communities they represent. Approval of the certification would also be inconsistent with the city’s land use goals and climate commitments, they said.

Texas-owned Zenith operates its Portland facility in part of the industrial northwest known as the Critical Energy Infrastructure Hub – dubbed the city’s tank farms. The six-mile stretch along the Willamette River contains 90% of Oregon’s fuel reserves. And it is on a bank of the Willamette that the risks of liquefaction, fuel spills and disasters are well documented in the event of a major earthquake. Zenith operates its Portland facility in part of the Northwest Industrial Zone known as the Critical Energy Infrastructure Hub, dubbed the city’s tank farms. The six-mile stretch along the Willamette River contains 90% of Oregon’s fuel reserves. And it is on a bank of the Willamette that the risks of liquefaction, fuel spills and disasters are well documented in the event of a major earthquake.

Related: Earthquake could threaten 90% of Oregon’s fuel supply

One of the authors of the legislative letter, Representative Khanh Pham, D-Portland, welcomed Friday’s decision.

“Credit goes to the hard work of advocates and community members who would not abandon Portland’s commitment to climate justice,” she said. “The decision on Zenith Energy is not just a step in the right direction for Portland’s climate commitments. It also represents an example of bold action other cities and counties must take as the climate crisis accelerates. “

Columbia Riverkeeper legal and program director Lauren Goldberg said the city of Portland has taken a historic stance against an already existing fossil fuel infrastructure. She said the fossil fuel industry is used to receiving stamp approval for existing fossil fuel terminals and facilities. But she said that in the era of climate crises, it’s over.

“The rules have changed. It’s no longer 1990, it’s no longer 2000. It’s 2021 and it doesn’t happen anymore, ”she said.

Goldberg said his group will look to DEQ to see what the agency will do about the pending renewal of the air quality permit and monitor whether Zenith plans to fight the denial.

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