Change city zoning laws to ban new construction of fossil fuel projects

In the coming months and years, cities will move to the forefront of the climate change movement. Portland, Oregon took a bold step in that direction this week, enacting restrictions on fossil fuel infrastructure through a new rule that’s likely the first of its kind in the country. By a unanimous vote, the city council enacted a new zoning code policy that bans new fossil fuel storage facilities and the expansion of existing facilities — thereby strongly limiting the transport and storage of oil within city limits. (One liquefied natural gas plant and 10 industrial storage terminals for petroleum fuels are located in Portland.)

Inside Climate News offers this explainer on the changes:

Under the zoning updates, Portland defined a new land use category called “Bulk Fossil Fuel Terminals” and then banned new such facilities across all city zones. This new category covers infrastructure with marine, pipeline or railroad access involved with the moving of fossil fuels (specifically, coal, methanol and various natural gas and petroleum products) between transport modes. It also includes facilities with a storage capacity of at least 2 million gallons of fossil fuels.

There are some exceptions, including gasoline stations, facilities that exclusively receive and distribute fuels by truck, and various commercial, agricultural and other local firms that have local supplies of fuels. The ban also excludes biodiesel, ethanol and other renewable fuels that contain less than 5 percent of fossil fuels.

The ordinance also orders various Portland departments to work with state officials to develop policy options for requiring existing terminals to better prepare for earthquakes.

In statements heralding the event, city officials marked the new zoning codes as crucial wins for the public as well as the coalition partners, including local high school students, who came together to pass them:

Following the historic votes, Mayor Charlie Hales joined supporters and community partners that helped pass the policy at a press conference in City Hall’s Atrium, including 350 PDX, Climate Action Coalition, Climate Solutions, Columbia Riverkeeper, Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility, Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde, Lincoln High School students, and others.

“Portland is taking bold steps to protect our city from the immediate risks of fossil fuels while sending a powerful message to other cities across the nation and the world that the grassroots movement will not let national politics deter cities from taking the lead on climate action,” said Mia Reback, Lead Organizer for 350 PDX. “City by city we can, and will, ensure the steps are taken to rapidly transition away from fossil fuels, protecting the very essence of life on planet earth.”

Activists are lauding the news as a major grassroots victory, especially given the intense opposition by industry, business, and other interests. For other cities seeking to follow Portland’s model, it’s worth noting that the city first passed a resolution last year opposing more infrastructure for transporting or storing fossil fuels. More information is available at “Portland City Council bans new bulk fossil fuel terminals,” The Oregonian (2016); “Portland Bans New Fossil Fuel Infrastructure in Stand Against Climate Change,” Inside Climate News (2016); “Portland Considers New Fossil Fuel Restriction,” NextCity (2016).