The nation’s public ports, focused on attracting industry and jobs, are largely known as agnostics when it comes to pursuing the commodities they handle.
It doesn’t matter if the shipments are toxic or nontoxic. Ports move cargoes, the story goes. They don’t pronounce moral judgments about them.
However, at least one line of business is no longer necessarily a lock, at least in the Northwest: the transportation of crude oil by rail.
Public concerns about everything from explosive oil-train derailments and crude spills to greenhouse gas emissions and the future of life on the planet are part of the reason why.
In at least two cases in Oregon and Washington, ports decided safety and environmental concerns loomed large enough for them to step back from oil transport. The Port of Portland, for example, eyed as much as $6 million in new annual revenue when it mulled siting an oil-train export terminal, documents obtained by The Columbian show. Ultimately, Oregon’s largest port scrapped the idea because of rail safety and other worries. At one point, it also reckoned that “the public does not readily differentiate between our direct contribution to climate change and actions we enable.”