Portland must come forward with concrete findings to end fossil fuel activity at Zenith Oil Terminal, according to agency rules

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Portland officials must back up their decision to reject a land use designation needed by struggling Zenith Energy to run parts of its fuel storage facility in northwest Portland, an agency has ruled. State.

Oregon’s land use appeal board found last week that the city failed to demonstrate how Zenith’s operations along the Willamette River violated a series of land use provisions. land the city cited in its formal denial of the company’s request last summer.

But the state agency also said it believes Portland has the power to torpedo fossil fuel operations by Houston-based Zenith, which has long been a boogeyman for local environmental opponents, if the city succeeds in make a more convincing argument.

Margaux Weeke, spokeswoman for Commissioner Dan Ryan, said city officials are evaluating the state board’s decision and will decide on next steps in a few weeks.

Ryan’s office oversees the Office of Developmental Services, which issued the denial.

“We remain committed to a clean energy future and fighting climate change, and that includes mitigating the effects of fossil fuel infrastructure in our city,” Weeke said.

The city’s review of next steps comes as Zenith claims to be aggressively moving away from crude oil storage and towards renewable diesel at its Portland terminal.

According to the company, the liquids it stores and loads onto ships at its northwest Portland facility are now made up of around 20% renewable fuels and that share is expected to grow to more than 50% by 2025.

In August, Portland officials refused to release what is called a land use compatibility statement to Zenith, saying the company’s plans for the site fall short of climate and resilience goals. from the city.

“While some of the changes at the site include a move towards biofuels and the necessary safety measures, the extent of fossil fuel activity and the potential negative impact on the environment and historically marginalized groups is not consistent with” the policies outlined as part of Portland’s 2035 Comprehensive Plan, Office of Developmental Services Director Rebecca Esau wrote.

State regulators said soon after that they would not renew an air quality permit. Zenith must also operate, citing the city’s refusal to grant the company a favorable land use ruling. Zenith appealed both decisions.

However, the city’s findings did not detail how Zenith’s fossil fuel business was running counter to its climate goals. Nor have Portland officials publicly disclosed what type or level of such activity would be permitted by entities operating in the city, if any.

These unanswered questions appeared to be reflected in the Land Use Appeal Board’s decision, which suggested that more concrete findings were needed.

“We agree with the petitioner that the dismissal is necessary for the city to adopt findings sufficient to support the decision. On remand, the city should explain why the use is not “consistent” with the cited provisions of the 2035 Plan,” the agency wrote.

Neither Ryan’s office nor the Developmental Services office responded to detailed questions from The Oregonian/OregonLive on Wednesday.

Grady Reamer, vice president of U.S. operations for Zenith Energy, said Portland’s position and the appeals board’s decision set a dangerous precedent and “make it nearly impossible for any company to plan or operate in this city. “.

“I don’t understand why the city would want to shut down its main renewable fuel storage facility, which is the only facility that can effectively provide the infrastructure the city needs to meet its own green energy goals,” he said. Reamer in a statement. Wednesday. “Portland’s Zenith Energy Terminal can help quickly achieve regional carbon reduction targets to combat climate change.”

Zenith bought a former asphalt refinery on Northwest Front Avenue for $61 million in 2017. It uses the 42-acre facility to store fuels before transferring them to ships bound for refineries and markets elsewhere.

The site is located in the industrial area of ​​Northwest Portland, and neighboring properties are also being developed with heavy industrial uses.

As recently as 2019, the company licensed millions of gallons of Canadian tar sands crude to be transported and stored in Portland.

Environmental and climate action groups have long criticized the presence of fossil fuel facilities in the city and have aggressively opposed Zenith’s efforts to expand operations.

— Shane Dixon Kavanaugh; 503-294-7632

Email [email protected]

Follow on Twitter @shanedkavanaugh

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