“Are We Too Mean-ith to Zenith?” Presser Script

On July 14th, XRPDX held an action outside the KOIN Tower, criticizing them for the fact that they haven’t covered the Zenith expansion since September 2019. We decided to have a “press conference” with a number of speakers who all had their own opinions on Zenith and KOIN’s coverage. Much like an oil train, it was a blast!

Dramatis Personae:

  • Emcee: Lorene Scheer
  • Madeline Smith: Lynn Spitaleri-Handlin
  • Dr. Janice Alexander: Janet Weil
  • KOIN News Director: Mark Darienzo
  • Thomas Eric Zenith III: Austen Lethbridge-Scarl

It was written by Austen Lethbridge-Scarl with extensive support from Janet Weil and Lynn Spitaleri-Handlin.

Emcee (Lorene)

Welcome, everyone, to the “Are We Too Mean-ith to Zenith?” press event! Today we’ll be discussing the Zenith Energy train facility in Northwest Portland and their proposed expansion. City Hall is likely going to decide soon if their application should move forward, so we have a number of speakers lined up to discuss the pros and cons of this proposal.

First up, we have Madeline Smith, a concerned parent from Northeast Portland who lives near train tracks that frequently see use by oil trains. Welcome, Madeline!

Madeline Smith (Lynn)

Hello, I’m Madeline Smith, and I’m here to talk about Zenith. First of all, yes, climate change is real and serious, and, yes, the Zenith facility is very dangerous.

But the real problem is my seven year old son, Tommy, who really, really wants the trains to explode.

We live half a mile from train tracks used by Zenith’s oil trains in Northeast Portland. If one of them derailed and exploded, like what happened five years ago in Mosier, Oregon, the explosion could easily destroy our home.

When I tell Tommy about this, he gets worried that if it were to happen while he was at school, he won’t get to watch the houses explode.

I tell him about liquefaction zones, places where, if there was an earthquake, would basically turn into quicksand, creating oil spills and widespread destruction around an unsafe facility so close to Forest Park and the Willamette River. My son thinks this sounds like Indiana Jones.

Also the facility just smells awful because whenever they transfer oil, toxic fumes get outgassed into the air. It makes me feel physically ill, but Tommy just calls it “The Fart Zone.”

In conclusion, we need to stop the Zenith expansion, both because it’s dangerous but also because I need my son to chill, and it would be nice if he had a livable planet when he grows up. Thank you.

Emcee (Lorene)

Thank you, Madeline Smith, for your thoughts on Zenith! Next up, we have Doctor Janice Alexander, a medical doctor.

Janice Alexander (Janet)

Yes, I am an emergency room physician, and I am watching out for health and safety issues affecting my patients. But KOIN TV is NOT “watching out for us”!

(As Dr. Alexander goes through her bullet points, the emcee tries to cut her off and take back the microphone but is physically fought off by the doctor until she’s done.)

  • Doctors and nurses, unlike bureaucrats in the Bureau of Development Services or politicians in city hall, have to actually respond to injured, burned, traumatized people. We have just experienced a heat dome mass casualty event in Multnomah County that was a PREDICTED event that the city and county had some time to prepare for. A derailment or an earthquake cannot be predicted. We are also still in a pandemic. What do you think would happen to our hospital bed capacity in the event of a catastrophic event caused by Zenith? How is this not news?
  • In case of an earthquake and resulting fire affecting the transshipment facility near the Willamette River,the Linnton neighborhood might very well go up in flames.
  • A derailment in a North or NE Portland neighborhood would also result in a blast zone and fire.
  • There’s no way our fire department could handle that kind of fire. All they’ll be able to do is try to control it so it doesn’t destroy half the city.
  • Zenith has nowhere near enough insurance to cover this impending disaster! When disaster strikes, WE pay for it!
  • And of course, we’re in a Climate Emergency. In 2015 the City adopted a resolution to “actively oppose expansion of infrastructure whose primary purpose is transporting or storing fossil fuels in or through Portland or adjacent waterways. “ In 2015 the City also specifically addressed opposition to “oil-by-rail transportation through and within the City”. In 2020, the City Council unanimously passed a Climate Emergency Declaration. Are those just empty words? Why is our local media including KOIN TV not covering this?
  • Our city should not be held hostage by a lying oil company threatening a lawsuit.

Emcee (Lorene)

Thank you, Doctor, for that presentation. Next up, we have KOIN TV’s News Director.

Thank you for being here, sir! KOIN has come under criticism recently for not covering the Zenith Energy facility since September of 2019, almost two years ago. Do you have a response?

News Director (Mark)

Yes, I do!

(The News Director just stands there silently with the microphone. He isn’t disengaged, looking around the audience as if he was giving a real talk, but not saying anything. It should be played as if he thinks he’s giving a proper response. In the background, the prop flames begin to dance around behind him. Once things become too awkward to continue, he finally speaks again.)

Thank you.

Emcee (Lorene)

Thank you for that thought provoking response.

(Prop flames continue to accumulate in the background.)

We have one last speaker for you today, Thomas Eric Zenith the Third, an executive with Zenith Energy, who is here to offer a rebuttal.

Thomas Eric Zenith the Third (Austen)

Thank you, thank you everyone, for the warm welcome. Appropriate for such a warm summer!

Folks like you and the passion you bring are a small part of why Portland is such a wonderful city.

I’m here today to tell you that Zenith Energy really isn’t that bad. In fact, we’re good!

First of all, I want to thank our hosts, KOIN TV. I think you’ve done a marvelous job the past couple of years covering our proposed expansion. It’s exactly the kind of coverage Portland deserves for these critical issues.

Now, to address some previous points, a few minutes ago, Mrs. Smith spoke about her friend who sounds like a really great guy. I’d love to buy him a beer sometime. But she got a couple of things wrong that I must correct.

She talked about the risk of explosions, which is something we hear a lot. We believe this fear is overblown. First, it’s just as possible that it could be a very small explosion. More to the point, only 25% of Portland at most is at risk for damage from an explosion. In my neighborhood, Lake Oswego, there is no risk at all of explosions!

I also appreciate the comments from Dr. Janice Alexander, although I have to say, what a downer, right? Her patients must love her! But I’m sure she made some excellent points.

(At this point, prop flames are starting to move in front of him and he starts standing taller to be seen above them.)

Both of them also mentioned the possibility of earthquakes, which, I must remind everyone, just don’t happen here! Do any of you remember any earthquakes happening around here? Leave that stuff in California!

But of course, the elephant in the room (or perhaps the sky!) is climate change. I’ve done my own personal research on climate change, spending many hours on Google and YouTube, and I recommend all of you do the same. This stuff is wild.

Anyway, thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak today. I’m looking forward to the City approving our Land Use Compatibility Statement, because we’re not just compatible with the land. We’re compatible with you. Thank you!

(He reaches over the flames to hand the microphone back to the emcee.)

Emcee (Lorene)

Thank you, Mr. Zenith, for your thoughtful comments.

That’s all of our speakers for today, but I do have one last question for the audience: How do you feel about Zenith’s expansion?

(The crowd is obviously going to boo here.)

Well, Mr. Zenith, it sounds like the crowd is on your side! Portland loves Zenith!

(The crowd is obviously going to boo even more.)

Hey now, come on, don’t be sore losers. This is just how democracy works. Better luck next time!

Anyway, we are now taking questions!

About Austen Lethbridge-Scarl

Austen Lethbridge-Scarl (he/him) is the editor of the XRPDX newsletter. Besides climate issues, he focuses on racial justice, police abolition and antifascism.


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