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Historic Resolution: City of Portland Bans New Fossil Fuel Infrastructure

On November 12, the Portland City Council voted 5-0 to pass a resolution that puts in place the strongest municipal ban on new large-scale fossil fuel infrastructure in the United States.

Historic Resolution: City of Portland Bans New Fossil Fuel Infrastructure

Sunnyside School climate change cohort rocking City Council. More than 400 people packed two overflow hearings, and thousands more wrote to the council. Photo by Bob Sallinger

by Bob Sallinger

On November 12, the Portland City Council voted 5-0 to pass a resolution that puts in place the strongest municipal ban on new large-scale fossil fuel infrastructure in the United States. The vote came a week after Council voted 4-0 to pass a resolution opposing the passage of oil trains through our city. At a time when cities in the Pacific Northwest are under relentless pressure to build new facilities for the fossil fuel industry, these resolutions are truly historic. Portland becomes the first city in the United States to stand up and say that it will not be part of building another generation of infrastructure which will perpetuate an industry that instead needs to be driven toward obsolescence.

The fossil fuel infrastructure resolution instructs city staff to develop code to implement the ban. It also includes language about the need to prepare and train the workforce for a clean energy future. Existing facilities that currently serve the community are allowed to do what is necessary to maintain themselves and make safety upgrades, but new large-scale storage and transport facilities and their associated pipelines and infrastructure will not be allowed.

Industry supporters will call this hypocrisy. They will point out that we still drive cars, heat homes, and even protest in plastic kayaks that rely on fossil fuels. The Reverend Marilyn Sewell eloquently testified that “thanks to big oil, this country has been made thoroughly reliant on fossil fuels. This charge of hypocrisy is one that serves only to constrain the moral voice of the people.” It is exactly the type of action taken by Portland last week that is going to necessary to move our communities and our planet toward a clean energy future.

Mayor Charlie Hales, who cosponsored these resolutions with Commissioner Amanda Fritz, powerfully summarized the decision before our community:  “The resolution states the policy of our city and where we as a city want to go. We are taking a stand that reflects the values of our community.... Climate change is real and we need to make changes in our lives and our community about how we affect that. This is a chance to take a stand about the future versus the past, about the public interest versus special interest, about climate change action versus climate change denial."

There is work ahead. The resolution needs to be converted into code. The fossil fuel industry will continue to target the Pacific Northwest and battles will need to continue to be fought across the landscape. However, Thursday’s vote represents a remarkable step forward. Signs reading “Cities Lead” in the audience captured the spirit of the day and hopefully will inspire the way forward.

Thanks to Mayor Hales and Commissioner Fritz for leading this landmark effort and to City Council for voting unanimously to support them. It is notable too that mayoral candidates Ted Wheeler and David Shor also both endorse the resolutions. Amazing work was done by the mayor’s senior policy advisor, Jackie Dingfelder, and Michael Armstrong at the Bureau of Planning. This was also a huge collaborative effort of conservation and community groups including Portland Audubon, Columbia Riverkeeper, 350.org, the Climate Action Coalition, Sierra Club, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and many others. Finally and most importantly, thanks to the thousands of people who protested, wrote letters, and packed City Hall to make this happen.

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