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Dec. 6, 2019

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Port of Vancouver board: No fossil fuel terminals

Oliver casts dissenting vote in what might be epilogue to previous oil terminal battle

By , Columbian staff reporter
Published: June 25, 2019, 5:20pm

The Port of Vancouver shut the door Tuesday on courting bulk fossil fuel terminals, nearly 17 months after Gov. Jay Inslee rejected plans to build a huge crude oil terminal on port property.

By a 2-1 vote, port commissioners approved a policy that states: “The port chooses not to pursue new bulk fossil fuel terminals on port-owned industrial property.”

Community activists heralded the decision as a win for embracing community safety and livability and for fighting global climate change on the local level.

“It’s a big step in the right direction,” Don Steinke, a retired high school science teacher, said after Tuesday’s decision. “What I would like this to do is to inspire other jurisdictions to take similar stands.”

Commissioner Jerry Oliver, who cast the lone dissenting vote Tuesday, hinted that he doesn’t believe the widely accepted scientific connection between climate change and greenhouse gases emitted by burning coal, oil and other fossil fuels.

To underscore that point, Oliver recounted how he read “The Population Bomb” decades ago. The 1968 book, written by Stanford University Professor Paul Ehrlich, erroneously predicted hundreds of millions of people would die from starvation in the 1970s due to overpopulation.

Oliver said he has “never denied global warming” but believes it’s due to a different cause. He also cautioned not to “judge circumstances as a causation.”

Environmentalists still got most of what they asked for during Tuesday’s meeting. After hearing testimony from more than 30 people, most of whom advocated a strong policy against fossil fuel terminals, port commissioners agreed to two significant wording changes.

First, they removed the words “for international export” from the policy. Environmentalists said including those words could lead to a bulk fossil fuel terminal as long as its shipments went to domestic destinations.

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Second, commissioners removed “current” from draft language that referred to “current port-owned industrial property.” Environmentalists worried including that word would allow the port to site a fossil fuel terminal on property acquired in the future.

Environmentalists wanted stronger language in the section regarding existing port tenants. They fear a repeat of what happened in Portland, where Zenith Energy has turned a small asphalt plant into a major oil terminal near the Willamette River.

Commissioner Don Orange appeared ready to add policy language to guard against that possibility on port property. Commissioner Eric LaBrant opted not to tinker with language that says tenants seeking to expand or change their permitted uses must go through port and other regulatory processes.

“I would not want to see us impinge on those,” LaBrant said. “I would prefer we not make any additional changes to that section.”

Orange also questioned if the policy needed to define fossil fuels to include liquefied natural gas and liquefied petroleum gas, but LaBrant opted to stick with no definitions.

“It’s really easy to get off into the weeds with naming conventions,” he said.

Tuesday’s decision could be an epilogue to the bitter fight over the rejected Tesoro-Savage joint venture, which would have brought up to 360,000 barrels of highly flammable Bakken crude oil a day to Vancouver by rail.

A future port commission always could reverse the policy adopted Tuesday. That seems unlikely given the level of community opposition and that Orange and LaBrant won elections based largely on their opposition to the subsequently rejected Vancouver Energy oil terminal.

Oliver, the one holdover from the commission that pursued the project, opted not to run for a third six-year term this year. He will be replaced in 2020 by Jack Burkman or Dan Barnes, the two candidates who filed for election to the nonpartisan office. Both men attended Tuesday’s meeting.

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