In Our View: Prolonging the Agony

Port of Vancouver could have ended oil terminal conflict without penalty

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Instead of putting the ball back in the court of Tesoro Corp. and Savage Cos., Port of Vancouver commissioners could have delivered an emphatic smash last week.

The commissioners unanimously agreed Friday to offer revisions on a lease to build an oil terminal along the shore of the Columbia River, leaving it up to Tesoro and Savage — working in conjunction as Vancouver Energy — to decide whether to accept the revisions. “We’re pleased to have received a unanimous decision by the port commission, which affirms the value of the Vancouver Energy project and demonstrates their continued commitment to the project,” company officials said in a statement.

And while the proposed amendments to the lease might not be acceptable to the companies that desire to build and operate the largest rail-to-marine oil terminal in the United States, the fact that they have been presented with such an option reflects poorly upon the port commissioners. Rather than take the opportunity to act in the best interests of Vancouver, the best interests of Clark County, and the best interests of the Columbia River Gorge, the commissioners have further extended a contentious proposal that could have been quashed without penalty.

The original proposal called for all permitting to be completed by Aug. 1, but delays in the process through the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council have rendered that deadline out of reach. It should be noted that the delays have been caused, in part, by the actions of Tesoro and Savage and the inadequacy of their original proposal to state regulators. That led the companies to propose an extension of the lease, which is what port commissioners were discussing last week.

To their credit, the commissioners opted to place more pressure upon Tesoro and Savage. Their counter-proposal increases Vancouver Energy’s monthly payments to the port from $50,000 to $100,000 beginning in May; requires only “pipeline-grade” crude to be transported into the area; gives the company 30 months to get through legal challenges if the project is approved by state officials; and brings up the contract for review every three months after March 31.

In discussing the lease extension, Commissioner Jerry Oliver chastised those who oppose the terminal out of a concern that fossil fuels contribute to climate change. Oliver absurdly compared the issue to Confederate soldiers during the Civil War, saying, “They were sincere like you, and, like you, they were sincerely wrong.” When an elected official whose job includes reviewing large energy projects mocks the warnings of a vast majority of climate scientists, he serves only to embarrass himself and his community.

Meanwhile, there were other strong reasons that commissioners should have taken the opportunity to terminate the lease. An oil terminal that brings an average of 1.5 million gallons of crude oil through heavily populated areas each day would be detrimental to the region and to the appropriate vision of a thriving community. The port commissioners sought some concessions on behalf of the populace, but those concessions are inadequate.

“I don’t think it’s going to change things for the better to keep this on life support,” Commissioner Eric LaBrant said before eventually voting in favor of the port’s counter-proposal. It is possible that Tesoro and Savage will reject the counter-offer; it is possible that the project will be rejected by Gov. Jay Inslee. But for now, the plan remains on life support when a mercy killing would have been more sensible for the community.