When people talk about outside money coming into the Portland region, they’re usually referring to the food, tourism, and hospitality industries. But it’s getting increasingly harder to overlook the influence of the oil industry, which has lately been pumping hundreds of thousands of dollars into efforts to expand tar sands and crude oil production along the East Coast.
But those efforts met a serious setback last week, as the South Portland Planning Board voted 6-1 in favor of a citizen-drafted initiative called the Clear Skies Ordinance, which would block the city from building a facility for crude oil in Portland Harbor, by way of the 60-year old Portland Montreal Pipe Line owned by Canadian subsidiary of ExxonMobil Corp. and Suncor Energy Inc.
“The Clear Skies Ordinance protects our air, our coast, and our community,” said Mary Jane-Ferrier, spokesperson for the anti-tar sands organization Protect South Portland, in a press release after the July 21 vote. “Of course, we know it may not be over yet, and we’re committed to defend this victory from oil industry attacks.”
The ordinance had been written by a committee of “volunteer experts on land use, law, science, and environmental management,” according to the press release. Its passing prohibits the loading of tar sands anywhere in the waterfront and forbids the construction of infrastructure designed for that purpose.
The ordinance’s passing was hailed by environmentalists. In a teleconference after the vote, national environmental activist and founder of 350.org Bill McKibben told media and local activists, “you’ve dealt a huge blow on behalf of the planet’s atmosphere.” McKibben also lauded the South Portland ordinance as a model for cities’ anti-tar sands efforts nationally.
Last November, oil industry groups spent $750,000 in South Portland in a successful effort to strike down a similar ordinance that would have had a broader reach along the waterfront. In the wake of last week’s vote, the American Petroleum Institute has threatened legal action to strike down the ordinance. South Portland Mayor Jerry Jalbert has announced that the city plans to open a legal defense fund to protect the ordnance against expected counterattacks from the oil industry. That effort would solicit donations from national organizations and environmental groups rather than use public funds.
“Tonight citizens working to protect their community prevailed over Big Oil. It is a true David versus Goliath victory,” said Environment Maine Director Emily Figdor. “The oil industry is not invincible, and the exploitation of tar sands is not inevitable. From Nebraska to Maine, citizens are standing up, and powerfully so, to protect their communities—and we are winning. We’re hopeful that South Portland’s action will empower other communities threatened by new tar sands infrastructure to protect themselves.”
350Maine, the local chapter of the national environmental group, plan to celebrate the victory August 3 at 4 pm at Bug Light Park. Visit 350maine.org for details.