by David Carkhuff
Portland Daily Sun news story
The South Portland City Council on Monday night voted 6-1 to pass a “Clear Skies Ordinance,” which supporters say will protect the city from a “tar sands” crude oil terminal but that opponents described as a futile gesture based on unflagging oil demand.
“We strongly support this ordinance,” said said Ivy Fignoca, a staff attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation, arguing the ordinance was “carefully crafted to only limit the bulk loading of crude oil onto vessels.”
“The ordinance does not prohibit any existing use,” she said.
Environmental groups and residents gathered on the Maine State Pier Tuesday to reflect on the city council action that culminated months of debate.
Twenty meetings and “hundreds of hours spent reviewing the evidence” went into the ordinance, Fignoca said.
Anticipating a legal challenge, Fignoca vowed to “vigorously defend the legal basis for these ordinances.”
Others described the city council vote as a watershed moment in a longstanding battle.
“When out-of-state oil interests come to try and pollute a Maine town, we know how to say no,” said Dylan Voorhees, clean energy director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine.
Voorhees called the vote a “resounding message all across the region and all across the continent that, yes, it is possible to face down the threats of tar sands oil, and yes it is possible to overcome the interests who want to stop at nothing to pursue those tar sands profits.”
Industry representatives say the term “tar sands” is a misnomer, noting the industry preferred term of “oil sands” refers to the diluted bitumen originating largely in Canada.
According to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, “Canada’s 174 billion barrels is third only to Venezuela and Saudi Arabia. Oil sands account for over 97 per cent of that vast reserve: 169 billion barrels of oil, with the potential for over 100 years of production.”
“Cumulative investment in the development of Canada’s oil sands in the past decade alone has surpassed $100 billion, and hundreds of billions more are expected over the next 25 years, according to the Conference Board of Canada,” the association reported.
A year ago, when the “tar sands” debate was heating up in Maine, Patrick Binns, Canadian consul general to New England, argued that the denial of exporting capacity from communities will not stem the flow of diluted bitumen.
“We will continue to need oil for decades,” Binns said at the time. “A reality for all of us is that Canada’s oil sands are part of our energy future.”
Opponents of “tar sands” oil said the city of South Portland approached the issue thoughtfully, and developed the ordinance “after Protect South Portland’s neighbor-to-neighbor campaign educated and mobilized the community against tar sands over the last year and a half.”
“To be clear, Toxics Action Center would be fighting this dangerous proposal in any town, but I am from South Portland, so this victory has a special meaning for me,” said Andy Jones, a South Portland resident and organizer for the Toxics Action Center, during Tuesday’s press event. “It means that my friends, neighbors and family members will be protected from toxic air pollution.”
The South Portland Planning Board found in a 6-1 vote last week that the Clear Skies Ordinance was consistent with South Portland’s comprehensive plan.
At issue is concern that oil companies will use the Portland Montreal Pipe Line from South Portland to Montreal, Quebec, Canada to carry “tar sands” oil from Canada to Casco Bay, where it would be loaded onto tankers for export, according to opponents.
In May 2013, the Portland City Council passed by a vote of 7-2 a resolution expressing concern with oil industry’s potential use of the aging Portland-Montreal pipeline to carry “tar sands” through the Sebago Lake watershed and to Portland Harbor, where it would be loaded onto tankers. The Portland City Council stopped short of prohibiting the pumping of “tar sands.”