City Council Refers Environmental Resolution Back to Committee for Lack of Backup Information; Oil Execs Testify for Tar Sands in Portland

By Carol McCracken  (Post # 1,276)

Earlier this evening the City Council unanimously voted to refer an environmental resolution back to Committee because of lack of backup information and the failure of a  staff member to attend the meeting and  answer council questions.  Work toward this resolution had  taken almost  two years to compile.  The controversial resolution, if passed,  would have directed the city manager Mark Rees to  adopt this procurement policy. 

The  resolution would have prohibited the use of disposable food service products containing polystyrene used in city operations and at city facilities, prohibited the distribution of non-sale disposabale beverage containers at city sponsored events and  most controversial of all, prohibited the purchase of tar sands oil in city operations and monitoring and tracking of five environmental performance metrics.”

Those testifying in support of the resolution outnumbered the opponents by about 2 to 1. Some City Councilors were taken by surprise by the attendance and testimony of three oil industry executives and the Consul General of Canada. “We can operate that pipeline with integrity.  We are ready to talk to you about how that can happen.  We’d like to provide you with information and have a complete dialogue,” said Larry D. Wilson, CEO, of Portland Pipe Line Corporation. David Cyr, also of Portland Pipe Line said this is a complex issue that needs “open and  transparent discussion” and supported refering the matter back to the Committee. John E. Quinn, executive director of the New England Petroleum Council, Boston said:  “There is not a single study that says that tar sand is any more abrasive than other crude that has passed through pipelines.”  He went on to say that “no one reached out to the petroleum field so everyone could participate in the dialogue.”  Consul General of Canada, Patrick G. Binns, said: “Canada has a great relationship with the US.  Maine has many of our tourists in the summer.  We are interdependent.  You get most of your electricity from Canada.” All vowed to participate in future discussions on bringing tar sands oil to Portland and its shipping facilities.

However, Peaks Island resident, Nicole Entremont, who has Canadian relatives,  offered a different “Canadian perspective.”  “We do not want tar sands near a maritime location.  Lobstermen would be fouled.  No one knows how to clean it up after an accident.  Tar sands go to the bottom.  No skimmers will clean it up.  Only divers can try.”  Professor  Dan Sawyer said if this resolution passes “we are sending a clear message to the state that we don’t want a pipe line that runs near our water source.” Emily Figdor, Director, Environment Maine, said in part that if Portland adopts the resolution, the City would not purchase refined tar sands oil for its heating fuel and  other applicable operations.  “The issue has gained prominence because oil companies want to use a 62-year-old pipeline that passes next to Sebago Lake to carry tar sands oil from Canada to Casco Bay, where it would be loaded onto tankers for export.  Pipelines carryng tar sands oil are more prone to spills, and tar sands oil spills are nearly impossible to clean up because the heavy oil tends to sink in water.”  Over 20 proponents of the resolution expressed similar concerns.

“Dozens of major corporations and cities have passed similar resolutions.  It can be done, it is being done.  Portland city staf have been well briefed on how to do this.  Currently, there are not a lot of fuels derived from tar sands in New England.  S o this is not about changing where we get fuel, but rather a preventative step to make sure Portland is not part of increasing the demand for dirty tar sands,” said Emmie Therberge, Energy Outreach Coordinator for the Natural Resources Council of Maine who has been the state’s leader in opposing this resolution and continues to be a leader in  other state wide  policies detrimental to the Maine environment. etheberge@nrcm.org for more information.