By Diana Meisenhelter
On February 8, 2023, over 50 citizens, dressed in red and led by Scrub the Hub coalition, showed up with small gavels shaped like oil trains with handwritten messages at City Hall. The group asked the Council to rescind the most recently granted LUCS to Zenith Energy, arguing that it is not compatible with the City’s Comprehensive Plan.
Monday’s news of the horrific toxic train catastrophe in Ohio coupled with the devastating earthquake in Turkey were very much on people’s minds as they urged City Commissioners to prioritize public health and safety over private profit. The CEI Hub and Zenith’s facility greatly increase the level of potential disaster as documented in the County’s CEI Hub Risk Analysis. The City has refused to respond to long-standing community concerns about seismic risk, derailments and spills, lack of emergency preparedness, air pollution, and climate justice.
Harlan Shober from Extinction Rebellion testified: “I was in this room when Council voted to ban expanding fossil fuel infrastructure. Then I watched Zenith expand its capacity many times over – all without proper permits. [In 2021], when they needed a Land Use Compatibility Statement, you recognized that their operations don’t fit with Portland’s plan, and you denied the LUCS. Zenith appealed but lost at every legal turn. Then, in what to many felt like a betrayal, you snatched defeat from the jaws of victory and granted Zenith a LUCS based on their promise to convert to renewables in five years. All the evidence and testimony from neighborhood associations, social justice groups, congregations, and climate organizations counted for nothing.”
The only member of the Council not physically present, Commissioner Rubio replied virtually to today’s testimony saying that the City did “not have the authority to rescind the LUCS.” She added that Zenith’s promise to move to renewable energy is “an alignment in the right direction we want to go” despite repeated scientific and public testimony challenging the City’s underlying assumptions about renewables. She did not answer other questions raised in annie’s testimony.
A January 2023 letter to the council from over 20 climate justice organizations noted: The Land Use Board of Appeals found that Zenith’s 2021 LUCS decision was a “quasi-judicial” decision. As a quasi-judicial decision, the October 2022 LUCS decision should have included public involvement in line with Portland City Code, Chapter 33, Section 730. The letter went on to document that Oregon Administrative Rulings (OAR 340-018-0050) clearly state a local government may withdraw or modify its LUCS any time prior to the issuance of the DEQ air quality permit.
Leaders of the action point to the undemocratic non-responsiveness of the City to public health and safety concerns in two recent back room deals with industry. Renewable diesel has the exact same chemical composition as diesel and poses most of the same risks. Local scientists question the models behind industry claims that renewables will lead to reduced emissions.
“The Scrub the Hub coalition is here today to make sure Portlanders’ worries concerning Zenith’s dangers get the attention they deserve. We are here because we refuse to be ignored. We are here to tell City Council that it doesn’t matter who holds the gavel… listen to the people,” annie capestany concluded in her testimony.