Quantcast

South Portland, Maine Wins Critical Fight vs. Big Oil

The Portland Head Lighthouse in South Portland, Maine. traveler1116 / Getty Images

The city of South Portland, Maine has won an important victory in a three-year legal battle to stop a pipeline company from offloading tar sands crude oil on its waterfront, after a judge ruled Friday that the city's ordinance against the activity was constitutional, The Portland Press Herald reported.

Portland Pipe Line Corp. had wanted to reverse the flow of its pipeline from South Portland to Montreal as demand for foreign crude fell and Canadian tar sands production took off, but the city council blocked that move with a "Clear Skies" ordinance in 2014.


"Faced with the prospect of hundreds of thousands of barrels of crude oil being loaded onto marine tank vessels in the city and threatening the health of the residents and preventing redevelopment of the waterfront, the City Council prohibited this new activity," South Portland Mayor Linda Cohen said in a statement reported by The Portland Press Herald. "We are pleased that the court upheld the ordinance."

Portland Pipe Line Corp. had argued the ordinance was unconstitutional, saying it violated the Dormant Commerce and Foreign Commerce clauses of the Constitution that give Congress the power to regulate international and interstate trade, but U.S. District Court Judge John A. Woodcock Jr. ruled that was not the case.

The company could still decide to appeal the ruling, but environmental law experts think the case could serve as a model for other communities standing up to big oil.

"For other communities looking at opposing fossil fuel infrastructure, this case is a blueprint for how you should do it," Vermont Law School environmental law professor Patrick Parenteau told Inside Climate News. "It's a strong opinion, and it could result in a really significant precedent for local control on petroleum-based industries."

South Portland was in part able to pass the ordinance because Maine has a "home rule authority" that allows municipalities to go beyond state law to protect their communities' health and well-being.

Fellow Vermont Law School professor Ken Rumelt told Inside Climate News that the ruling was "a powerful tool" for other communities. "It says that a community, assuming there is no state law preempting what they're trying to do, can say no, we don't want to suffer these impacts," he said.

The pipeline company, a Canadian subsidiary of ExxonMobil, Shell and Suncor Energy, first sued to stop the ordinance in 2015, according to The Portland Press Herald.

Friday's decision came after a four-day trial in June, in which the company argued that there were almost no new foreign deliveries to the port and that their survival as a business depended on reversing the pipeline.

The city council, meanwhile, partly passed the ordinance because the company's pipeline-reversal plan included two 70-foot-high smokestacks near a waterfront park that would have emitted pollutants while burning compounds off of the crude before loading it into tankers.

Supporters of the ordinance also said that tar sands oil was more dangerous to load onto tankers and move through pipelines, and more difficult to clean up in the case of an oil spill, The Portland Press Herald reported.

Sponsored
On thin ice. Christopher Michel / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

The Russian military is taking measures to protect the residents of a remote Arctic settlement from a mass of polar bears, German press agency DPA reported.

The move comes after regional authorities declared a state of emergency over the weekend after sightings of more than 50 bears in the town of Belushya Guba since December.

Read More Show Less

This year's letter from Bill and Melinda Gates focused on nine things that surprised them. For the Microsoft-cofounder, one thing he was surprised to learn was the massive amount of new buildings the planet should expect in the coming decades due to urban population growth.

"The number of buildings in the world is going to double by 2060. It's like we're going to build a new New York City every month for the next 40 years," he said.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored

Over the past few years, it seems vegan cooking has gone from 'brown rice and tofu' to a true art form. These amazing cooks show off the creations on Instagram—and we can't get enough.

Read More Show Less
The USS Ashland, followed by the USS Green Bay, in the Philippine Sea on Jan. 21. U.S. Department of Defense

By Shana Udvardy

After a dearth of action on climate change and a record year of extreme events in 2017, the inclusion of climate change policies within the annual legislation Congress considers to outline its defense spending priorities (the National Defense Authorization Act) for fiscal year 2018 was welcome progress. House and Senate leaders pushed to include language that mandated that the Department of Defense (DoD) incorporate climate change in their facility planning (see more on what this section of the bill does here and here) as well as issue a report on the impacts of climate change on military installations. Unfortunately, what DoD produced fell far short of what was mandated.

Read More Show Less
The Paradise Fossil Plant in western Kentucky. CC BY 3.0

Trump is losing his rallying cry to save coal. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) voted on Thursday to retire two coal-fired power plants in the next few years despite a plea from the president to keep one of the plants open.

Earlier this week, the president posted an oddly specific tweet that urged the government-owned utility to save the 49-year-old Paradise 3 plant in Kentucky. It so happens that the facility burns coal supplied by Murray Energy Corporation, whose CEO is Robert Murray, is a major Trump donor.

Read More Show Less