Report Back: Scrub the Hub activists bring the truth to City Council

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. 

What’s Shaking at The Critical Energy Infrastructure Hub?

In 2020, Multnomah County Office of Sustainability and the City of Portland Bureau of Emergency Management commissioned a study of the Critical Energy Infrastructure (CEI) Hub in Northwest Portland (https://www.multco.us/sustainability/cei-hub-seismic-risk-analysis)

The CEI Hub (AKA “the tank farm” or “the heavy industrial zone”) was built before the region’s earthquake risk was fully understood.  The Hub (https://srpntn.com/2019/10/21/cei-hub-google-earth-flyover/) sits on unstable soil subject to liquefaction and lateral spreading in an earthquake. Because the CEI Hub is so close to the Willamette River and is sited within the City of Portland, the risk of an accident, spill, or major infrastructure failure is of particular concern, as the region’s earthquake’s risks are now well-known and well-documented. It is not a matter of if but when an earthquake will happen; the probability of a major seismic event in the next 50 years is estimated to be 26%.  

The major conclusions from the study are:

1.  A Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake would result in total potential releases from the materials stored in tanks at the CEI Hub of from 94.6 million to 193.7 million gallons of fuels. This is equivalent to the size of the oil spill at the offshore BP oil rig, the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico. 

2.  The average tank was built in 1954, based on the year-built data that was available. This is well before modern seismic standards had been established.

3.  The financial costs of the damage could be up to $2.6 billion and based on prior spills in similar disasters, total costs and damages would likely be many times more.

4.  Oil releases from the tanks to the river would spread downstream all the way to the mouth of the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean, creating an ecological nightmare.

In 2022 legislation (SB 1567) was passed requiring energy terminal companies in the Hub to submit comprehensive seismic vulnerability assessments and risk mitigation plans to the Department of Environmental Quality by June 1, 2024. It’s a first step but is it really adequate to address the safety issues of the Hub in a timely manner?

To know more about the risk in Oregon, watch “Unprepared: An Oregon Field Guide Special” (https://www.opb.org/television/programs/oregon-field-guide/article/more-about-unprepared/). The video covers science and preparedness for both earthquake and tsunami hazards. The CEI Hub is discussed for 5 minutes beginning about 12:45. The material is still relevant for the Hub, although it didn’t address the environmental spill impacts or policy issues that emerged in 2019; this study does address environmental spill impacts.

[The photo shows the rusty fuel tanks in the CEI Hub from Highway 30, which runs on the Hub’s western edge.]

Turning Angst into Activist Art

Do you ever feel the sear of rage-fear in your hands? It’s the one that starts when you contemplate the totality of problems we have made for planet Earth, that we continue to ignore, and will leave to our children to face. Yeah, that one. What do you do with the gnaw of your anxiety? Scoff and complain? Sing la-la-la with your fingers in your ears? Throw your hands up in defeat? I’ve done a lot of all of those – so I’m learning instead to transform my rage-fear into something else at the end of a paintbrush.

For a little over a year, I’ve been turning my angst into activist art with Extinction Rebellion PDX. My background is in space planning and design, and I’m a homeschool parent, so art supplies were at the ready when I decided to see if XRPDX could use some additional creative support. I figured I would paint some signs, but I didn’t realize I’d write poems, make soundtracks, lead street performances, and meet some people whose badassery I can only hope to attain – I’ve learned a lot so far!

What I know to be true is that art has the power to DISRUPT. What happens when we shake people out of complacency by disrupting something about their day? I like to think it’s the moment a new idea might make it through, a flash of curiosity.

Art speaks not only with words, but with color, symbols, ideas, and emotions.

Art turns a mirror on ourselves.

Art makes demands.

Art builds a vision of what could be!

Diana Meisenhelter cutting out images created by Patti. Photo credit: Patti Robrahn.

On June 4, 2022, XRPDX hosted the “Doom or Bloom” demonstration in the driveway of Zenith Energy. The event involved a meeting spot, a short walk, and a gathering, so part of the planning involved understanding how our banners and signs would read from Highway 30 as well as Zenith’s driveway. After all, only a message that can be read makes its point!

In the weeks leading up to the event, I created digital images that were printed on billboard material. At a group work party, the XRPDX team cut and taped our way to 50 double-sided signs. One major consideration in the design was the weight of the sign, since it would be held for an extended period of time, and the other was its weather resistance. On one side, familiar cautionary road sign imagery declared the dangers of Zenith, while the other side declared a new direction, with blue skies, birds, butterflies, and flowers. With few words, the signs spoke clearly: We have a choice. Shouldn’t the answer be clear?

On the day of the event, 50 participants held the “Doom” side out to the street as the soundtrack started with bits of dire news reports crackling through the sound system. After an audible frequency change sequence, a little like changing the station, the news reports took on a different tone. The narrative was shifting and the activists were winning! On cue, performers began to flip their signs – one after another until the driveway was in full “Bloom.” It was a performative realization of our future hopes for the CEI Hub. Because if we can’t imagine the world we want, how can we ever expect to build it?

Activism’s fire is fed by our rage-fear, but in order that it might not consume us, Art brings the rain to grow images, sounds, and themes to connect us, and our collective action gives form to an otherwise shapeless longing for a more just and sustainable world.

An Extinction Rebellion PDX Art team is forming now – connect with us at info@xrpdx.org.

Year-End XRPDX Working Group Reports

ANCE (Act Now for Climate Emergency) Report 

By Diane Meisenhelter

During 2022, XRPDX’s ANCE work group monitored and protested the City of Portland’s inaction on reducing GHG emissions.  

Early in the year we pressured the City Council to include more funds during the City Budget process. We helped organize protests against Portland Business Alliance’s attacks on the Portland Clean Energy Fund (PCEF), including actions at City Hall and PBA offices, resulting in sit down arrests in conjunction with Scientist Rebellion in April. Later this fall, we organized folks to testify on preserving community control over a segment of funding in the proposed PCEF revisions.     

In commemoration of 2021 Heat Dome deaths, the ANCE team, joined by allies, organized a memorial at City Hall and pushed for substantive emission reduction actions as part of the City’s Climate Emergency Workplan.  

Throughout the year we supported Youth vs. ODOT in their push to prevent freeway expansion. We participated in the City’s Build/Shift process for strong policies to reduce emissions in the building sector while ensuring climate justice for low-income tenants.  We gave testimony on the City’s renewable fuels policy as well as advocated for enforceable fossil fuel phase out language in Phase 2 of the City Charter process.  

After the City granted the LUCS to Zenith, we joined forces with the Scrub the Hub group to push the City to rescind that decision and are planning actions scheduled for December 14 and beyond.  On the national level, ANCE members worked hard to defeat the Manchin Dirty side deal.


Scrub The Hub/Shut Down Zenith Report

By Margaret Butler

In March, we started planning for a coalition action at Zenith. With excellent artistic support from Patti Robrahn, we offered our community the choice of Doom or Bloom, calling on Zenith to “Cease and Desist” its operations. With an Appeals Court legal victory for us in Zenith’s battle with the City, we decided to hold off on direct action, with the hope that when the Oregon Supreme Court ruled or refused to hear the appeal, Zenith would be shut down.  

Our June 4 march and rally drew over 100 people to Zenith’s facility in the rain. Speakers from XRPDX as well as Portland Youth Climate Strike, Braided River, and others gave short, inspiring speeches. Some rebels performed a satirical skit, and we all danced and sang.  We promised that we would come back, which hasn’t yet happened. 

As we started planning for the next action, we asked allies to give some input into our strategy. Those August meetings turned into a new coalition effort, with agreement to work together on public education and mobilization.

On November 16, XRPDX members and allies gathered in front of the Bureau of Development Services offices on SW 4th Avenue. We deployed our banners: “Rescind the Zenith LUCS, No More Backroom Deals Dan,” and “Committing Climate Crimes? Better Call Stoel Rives!!” We handed out leaflets about shutting down Climate Criminal Zenith Energy.

Then we danced to the tune of Queen’s “We Will Rock You”, with our own lyrics of “We Will Stop You”, and Megan Trainer’s “All About That Base,” with our own lyrics. The best part: taking the song and dance inside, to entertain and educate those inside. Having fun and raising awareness at the same time!The new Zenith/ Critical Energy Infrastructure hub (Scrub the Hub!) coalition has hosted two educational “Rumble on the River” forums, with another on December 8 and a fourth on January 17, 2023. The mobilization to shut down Zenith and to alert the public to the dangers of the Hub is growing once more.


Regenerative Culture Report

By Michaela McCormick

The Regenerative Culture working group, aka “Regen Team,” met weekly on Wednesday afternoons throughout the year. We planned and hosted the XRPDX Retreat on January 22 where we discussed how we work together now—what is good and what needs to change, next steps towards a strategic plan, and what matters most to us, using a pro-social practice. 

For our June 4 Zenith Action, Regen took on the roles of Coordinating, Peacekeeping, Parking, Greeting, Petition and XR Contact List Sign-up, Wellness Supplies, and Clean-up. Basically everything needed for a large action with over 100 activists to go well, which it did! 

The Non-Violent Direct Action Training we hosted, led by Bonnie McKinlay on July 24, was attended by 20 people and got rave reviews. We organized Affinity Groups which involved a Rapid Action Network, Outreach, Meetups, and Organizing within XR. Over the course of 2022, we presented 16 Introductory slideshows plus discussions on zoom. The Regen Team hosted a potluck picnic for XRPDX on July 14. We continued our regular practices of leading a short breakout for listening pairs and telling jokes in meetings, which have now become a part of XRPDX culture. We do an 8-minute mindfulness meditation to begin our meetings.

For more information on Regenerative Culture, please see this:

Zenith’s Greenwashing Ploy

On September 15th, Zenith Energy announced that, if the City of Portland granted their Land Use Compatibility Statement (LUCS), they would move towards 100% renewable fuels in the next five years. In earlier communications, they had committed to 50% renewables in five years. Clearly Zenith Energy and their lawyers at Stoel Rives are getting a bit nervous about losing round after round through the legal system. But Zenith needs to stop all fossil fuel activity now, not five years from now. 

In the City’s Terminal Zoning amendment revision that passed in August, the City exempted bio/renewable fuels from the regulation. Extinction Rebellion has major concerns about the problems with bio/renewable fuels. Bottom line: bio/renewable fuels are not the answer. 

As we move with a coalition of other groups into a new round of community education and action on Zenith, let’s remember that Zenith has time and time again not told the truth about its operations. They have been caught lying, paid some small fines, and continued on. The City needs to stay strong and not grant Zenith the LUCS that it wants.  Train watching in the spring showed that the vast majority (95%+) of the trains at Zenith were carrying crude oil, not renewable diesel. There should be regulators who go out to the CEI hub and monitor the operations first hand. 

In terms of pending catastrophe, the CEI Hub is the most dangerous place in Portland and  bio/renewable fuels explode and burn just like fossil fuels. We need to reduce all fuels in the CEI hub, not expand them. We need better public transit, not more dangerous fuels. We need a walkable, bikeable Portland, not more polluting fuels.

Zenith Energy’s announcement is nothing but greenwashing by a nervous company.  

No New or Expanded Bulk Fossil Fuel Infrastructure: XRPDX Testimonies to City Council

On June 30, several XRPDX members, along with our allies in Breach Collective, Oregon PSR and others, testified via zoom to the City Council (minus Commissioner Hardesty) on the need to approve and implement the long-delayed Portland Fossil Fuel Terminal Zoning Amendments (FFTZA), as previously described here.

Here is a compilation of our oral testimony, which followed a slideshow presentation by Bureau of Planning and Sustainability staffer Tom Armstrong on the CEI Hub and some troubling possible exceptions for biofuel storage in the CEI Hub. Today, July 7, 2022, is the final day for the Council to receive written testimony (XRPDX members also have sent theirs in), and then they will make a decision. We will continue to track these FFTZAs as part of our Act Now on Climate Emergency (ANCE) campaign.


Margaret Butler’s testimony:

Thank you, Mayor and Commissioners for allowing me to testify.  I’m Margaret Butler, with Extinction Rebellion. 

I have 3 things to say:  

1.    I’m grateful to the City Council in 2016 for taking this on and to you all for revising these amendments based on the understanding that we have to move away from fossil fuels. Every year things get more dire, both in terms of our short timeline for emissions reductions, and as we face the possibility of a subduction zone quake. Last summer’s County and City report on what would happen in the event of the projected magnitude 9 earthquake underscored those concerns. We need to do more, but the zoning amendments were and are an important tool in moving off fossil fuels and towards a more sustainable future.  Please do not weaken the amendments because of industry pressure.

2.    Second, the biofuel exemption is concerning to me. There are many problems with biofuels, including serious questions about how to measure biofuel impact on climate mitigation as biofuels move into the marketplace.

3.    Third, I’m a lifelong Portlander who spent 40 years in the labor movement, half of that as a founder and lead staff for Portland Jobs with Justice. The last few years before I left in 2013, JwJ activists were bringing proposals to support stopping oil trains and to keep fossil fuels in the ground. I knew they were right but felt constrained by the opposition of parts of the labor movement who were concerned about jobs. I regret that I couldn’t act more boldly then. I can’t go back, but I can act boldly now. I encourage you to also act boldly now. Time is short. We need to think about the workers, who would be at ground zero in the event of a catastrophic earthquake, and we need to move quickly to transform our economy, including a just transition for fossil fuel workers. 

The actions we take in the next handful of years are critical. Thank you.


Michael Fairhurst’s testimony:

Hello City Councilmembers.

My name is Mike Fairhurst, and I am a member of Extinction Rebellion PDX.

I am proud of my city, the beautiful city of Portland, for creating zoning amendments to declare the end of new fossil fuel infrastructure. I am here today to tell the city to stand firm on this landmark policy. The corporate interests that are fighting this proposal are behind on the science, and want to lock Portland into a future that will deliver destruction and climate chaos. I ask each council member today to stand up to these dangerous corporate interests, and vote instead for the public interest. That means no new fossil fuel infrastructure, full stop.

We also must have a hard conversation about Not-So-Renewable fuels. The truth about Not-So-Renewable fuels is that their emissions are highly complicated. Their carbon footprint depends on everything from changes in soil carbon content over time to their impact on supply chains globally. The biggest risk with biofuels is indirect land use change (ILUC). Switching to biofuel production in one place can result in large greenhouse gas emissions many miles away, for instance, in clearcutting local or foreign carbon sequestering forests to grow new crops. In the worst case, biofuels are no more an improvement than “clean” coal, yet we trust the worst climate villains such as Zenith to build biodiesel capacity next to their tar sands storage tanks and declare it renewable.

It is urgent that the City issue a moratorium on new biofuel infrastructure until the City has thoroughly studied and held public testimony and developed a thorough renewable fuel standards model. The end goal must be electrification, and biofuels do not help us get there.

For the continuity of the human race, and in the name of future generations, I am here to demand: No more fossil fuel infrastructure. And no more not-so-renewable fuel infrastructure.


Lynn Handlin Spitaleri’s testimony:

Hi, my name is Lynn Handlin, I live and work in outer SE Portland.

I am happy you will be passing the Fossil Fuel Terminal Zoning Amendments to ban new or expanded bulk fossil fuel infrastructure. Somehow I thought this was a done deal some years ago but I am glad it is finally actually happening, in spite of the Portland Business Alliance, and other forces focused only on profits, not caring about the health of the community, the City or indeed the planet.

Do not let these amendments be weakened, do not cave to the Portland Business Alliance and company. Do not allow PBA’s amendments to pass. Do not fall for the bait and switch that “renewable fuels or biodiesel” present. Currently businesses in the CEI Hub are not required to reveal how they are using their storage tanks, and increasing storage capacity for biodiesel could easily lead to more fossil fuels. In 2021 Zenith transported as much or more crude oil as ever, in addition to biodiesel. Zenith has a proven track record of lying to the City and DEQ about their operations; no reason they would stop now.

Also, biodiesel and renewable fuels go boom and spew flames and fumes when the quake hits and the facilities fail. These fuels do not necessarily have a lower carbon footprint than fossil fuels, they can in fact be worse.

We as a City must transition away from fossil fuels and renewable/biofuels. Electrification, reducing use through better building codes, and transforming our transportation systems expanding public transit, pedestrian and bike options are the way to go. We can’t burn our way out of this problem.

With today’s appalling Supreme Court decision [West Virginia v. EPA – Ed.] essentially gutting the federal government’s power to do anything about climate, this is more important than ever. It’s up to you, you are our last chance.

We owe it to the Portland community to minimize the extreme seismic risk the CEI Hub poses and the toxic fumes that are being emitted now. We owe it to everyone’s children, grandchildren and all those we share this planet with to do everything possible to put the brakes on climate change. These amendments, with the addition of putting a hold on bio/renewable fuels are an important step in the right direction.

Thanks for listening to the community and passing these amendments.


Janet Weil’s testimony:

Thank you, Mayor and Commissioners, for this opportunity. I’m Janet Weil, with Extinction Rebellion.

In 2016, the City Council passed an historic ordinance to halt new and expanded fossil fuel infrastructure. The need for the City of Portland to respond to the climate crisis, AND to the risk of a catastrophic earthquake impacting the Critical Energy Infrastructure Hub, has become even more urgent. This week we are holding events to remember the 96 Oregonians who died in the Heat Dome of 2021. We need Climate Action NOW, and we need a just transition to a clean energy economy. I have to point out that just blocking expansion of fossil fuel does NOT protect Portland or the region from oil train derailments and fires from Zenith oil trains.

In addition, we oppose any infrastructure expansion for so-called “renewable” or biofuels until further study has been done, and with requirements for reporting to DEQ. These fuels can also explode and burn, and whether they are low-carbon depends on many variables, including the feedstocks for the fuels and the carbon intensity of their production. I am very unhappy to hear from Tom Armstrong about the carve-outs for these unproven fuels. Why was public comment not allowed on these amendments?

Stopping the growth of fossil fuel infrastructure is well-supported by Portlanders.

For public health and safety, the protection of our beautiful, vulnerable riverine ecosystem and Forest Park, and the beginning of the end to dangerous fossil fuel infrastructure in our city, we in Extinction Rebellion urge you to vote unanimously for these Fossil Fuel Terminal Zoning Amendments.

Thank you.

[The artwork seen above by Patti Robrahn. Photo credit: Janet Weil.]

No New Fossil Fuel Infrastructure in Portland!

We in XRPDX and our allies have fought for years against expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure. Finally, after years of appeals and delay by the Western States Petroleum Association, Portland Business Alliance, Oregon Business and Industry, and Columbia Pacific Building Trades Council, the City of Portland is getting ready to implement the Portland Fossil Fuel Terminal Zoning Amendments (FFTZA) banning new or expanded bulk fossil fuel infrastructure. As usual, the decision-makers in City Hall need a good, firm push from the grassroots for climate justice and protection from environmental catastrophe. So let’s testify! Talking points and instructions on how to send in your oral or written testimony on or before June 30 are below.

These amendments are a necessary first step toward averting catastrophic impacts from the forecasted magnitude 9.0 earthquake.  As a recent report from Multnomah County and the City of Portland makes clear, Portland’s Critical Energy Infrastructure (CEI) hub poses catastrophic risk of spills, explosions, and toxic fumes in the event of the Cascadia Earthquake. Let’s help the City government protect the health of the Willamette and Columbia Rivers and our communities by stopping the reckless expansion of dangerous infrastructure. 

These amendments are important public policy, in line with Portland’s Climate Emergency Declaration, statewide planning goals, the Governor’s executive order on the climate crisis, and recent legislation to protect communities from risks posed by fossil fuel storage in Portland. This struggle has inspired Whatcom County in NE Washington to follow Portland and enact historic bans on new fossil fuel infrastructure. 

The City Council should hold the line, and not weaken the amendments in exchange for industry promises, or make any allowance for further fossil fuel storage expansion. Fossil fuel terminal owners should retrofit their facilities, but this should not come at the expense of further increasing risk to our communities and watersheds from reckless expansion. 

Council should go further to strengthen the amendments, clarifying potential loopholes and establishing enforcement and safety mechanisms for renewable fuel storage. Currently, terminal owners are not required to state how they use their storage tanks, and could potentially use this ambiguity to free up space for more fossil fuels. Likewise, any renewable fuel storage development must come with mandatory reporting requirements to prevent more fossil fuel storage being created under the guise of renewables.  

This is just the beginning. Council should commit to further action to prevent catastrophe in the CEI hub by mandating seismic retrofits, and requiring the phaseout of fossil fuel storage in line with reducing demand. 

Council must set a policy agenda toward 100% electrification. Renewable, or bio-fuel, expansion increases seismic risks in the short and long term if it does not replace fossil fuel storage. Zenith Energy, for example, moved as much or more crude in 2021 as any year prior, even as it began moving biodiesel as well. Council should avoid this possibility by moving toward full, citywide electrification—not more combustion.  


Sign up for the Fossil Fuel Terminal Zoning Amendments hearing on Thursday, June 30 at 2 PM, a hybrid in-person and online meeting. We need your support by signing up to testify. 

To testify before City Council in person or virtually:

  • Easy sign-up form to testify on June 30 HERE; or
  • Visit the Auditor’s Office on the first floor of City Hall, Room of 130; or
  • Call 311 to sign up over the phone.

Registration for virtual testimony closes one hour before the Council meeting.

Written testimony may be submitted through the Map App until July 7 or via U.S. Mail before the close of the hearing on June 30th to:

Council Clerk

Fossil Fuel Terminal Testimony

1221 SW 4th Ave, Room 130

Portland, OR 97204

We Bloomed! Defiance, Art and Joy at Zenith

June 4 was another chilly, rainy day in Portland’s Critical Energy Hub, but XRPDX rebels and our allies from Cedar Action, 350PDX, Jobs with Justice’s Climate Jobs, and neighborhood groups brought the spring colors and energy to Zenith! With our huge banner reading “Zenith: Cease and Desist” and our World on Fire Truck with its huge banners, approximately 100 folks marched from Highway 30 to the front entrance to the fossil-fuel-transshipment facility. While a Zenith worker on the rail platform watched, we set up with sound system, a Timeline banner of the history of Zenith, Doom or Bloom double-sided signs, and more.

A lively program kicked off from noon-ish to 1:30, with MC Victoria Wingell welcoming the crowd and introducing speakers Margaret Butler and Jan Zuckerman, both “Zenith 5” defendants and longtime opponents of Zenith’s dangerous oil-by-rail operations, and Liam Miller Castles, a recently graduated high school student.

Jan told the story of the lower Willamette River as a braided river, which was filled with soil from the west hills and silt from the river, and turned into an industrial zone. (Ninety percent of all vehicular fuels, and 100 percent of all airplane fuels for the state of Oregon are packed into this narrow strip of land between the west bank of the Willamette and Forest Park.)

Jan’s remarks acknowledged the meaning of the date chosen for this action: “the day after the anniversary of the oil train derailment and explosion in Mosier. By showing up you make it clear that our community, like their community, does not choose doom, we choose BLOOM- we choose a future that does not include Zenith Energy.”

Margaret then described the dramatic direct action at Zenith in April 2019: “On Easter morning 2019, at 6 am, we brought a dump truck of soil and a tiny house and built the garden, thanks to Mike and Harlan and Dan and others. … The rail line was shut down for two days. Seven days later, a bunch of us went back and did it a second time.  …
“With awesome legal support from the Civil Liberties Defense Center and the National Lawyers’ Guild, we were able to present a full necessity defense, including expert testimony from a climate scientist.  The courtroom was packed, and the testimony was compelling.  Despite video evidence of us trespassing on Zenith’s property, we convinced 5 out of the 6 jurors to vote to acquit us.  It was a legal milestone in terms of use of the necessity defense in climate cases and the case against us was dropped.” 

Liam read a statement by Youth vs ODOT organizer Adah Crandall, who was a no-show due to illness, adding his own urgent remarks at the end. Adah’s speech included this:
“We are running out of time, and we need urgent climate action now. And by that, I don’t just mean getting solar panels and reducing our plastic waste. Combatting the climate crisis means radically transforming every aspect of our society – how we get our energy, our food, how we get around, how we relate to one another and to the planet.  It means stopping our dependence on fossil fuels, and cutting ties with corporations like Zenith. Zenith is a disaster for our climate, and for our community.”

After the speakers, we lined up our signs, designed by artist Patti Robrahn, across the Zenith entrance, and, to the blasts of recorded “breaking news” about transforming the CEI Hub to a place of beauty, we showed first the “Doom” sides, then the “Bloom” sides. A visually powerful moment of transformation. As Patti called out details of Zenith’s ugly history of deception and expansion, we chanted our demand at each point on the timeline: “Why are they still here?!”

A dance party followed, with live music by Wendy Emerson and friends, and some remarks on Zenith’s law firm Stoel Rives by Michael Fairhurst winding up the program.
Please sign our Letter to the City Council demanding that the City of Portland take specific steps to shut down Zenith’s operations once and for all: https://actionnetwork.org/letters/shut-down-zenith-energys-fossil-fuel-operations
The struggle continues, and we continue to ask the City of Portland: Doom or Bloom?

“Zenith 5” Defendants Jan Zuckerman and Margaret Butler: Remarks at Zenith

[This “braided” speech was given at the “Doom or Bloom” action at the gates of Zenith Energy transshipment facility in Portland, Oregon on June 4, 2022. – Ed.]


Thank you all for coming out today, to the “Doom or Bloom” action at Zenith on this rainy afternoon, the day after the anniversary of the oil train derailment and explosion in Mosier. By showing up you make it clear that our community, like their community, does not choose doom, we choose BLOOM – we choose a future that does not include Zenith Energy.

The Willamette, a short distance from here, was once a braided river, with many woven channels, not the one channel that we see today. It shaped this flood plain, a place of connections, a myriad of streams, and lakes feeding into clean water, creating fertile soil, a busy bustling life affirming ecosystem. Turn the clock forward and we find ourselves here, standing on Guild’s Lake, now filled in with soil blasted from the west hills and silt dredged from the river, to create the unstable foundation for what is now the Industrial Sanctuary, better known as the Critical Energy Infrastructure Hub, where Zenith sits, displacing and poisoning nonhuman and human communities.

Zenith’s shiny new infrastructure is deceiving. The tanks where they store their oil were built in 1957, when Chevron used this facility for mostly asphalt.  After many different owners, and numerous spills and toxic releases, that didn’t stop the DEQ from giving owner Arc Logistics a permit to expand the terminal’s rail unloading capacity, moving dangerous crude oil through our neighborhoods. 

Community members, many of whom are here today, protested and blocked trains to try to stop owner Arc Logistics from operating at higher levels than their permit allowed.  In 2017, when Zenith Energy bought the facility, they continued this legacy, quadrupling its rail unloading capacity, and transporting, by rail, Tar Sands and other crude oil from Canada and the Bakken fields in North Dakota, for shipment to Asia and other ports. 

Zenith managed to expand an oil by rail export market in Portland by skirting around public processes and using permits that expired over a decade ago, to pollute and endanger our communities. The City of Portland’s Fossil Fuel Terminal Zoning Amendments passed in 2016, preventing any new bulk fossil fuel storage terminals from being built, could not stop them.  

Not only that, but Zenith has also continually lied about the kind of crude oil it is handling and exporting, has avoided requirements to conduct a spill preparedness exercise, lied about the amount of oil its new rail racks would unload, and has violated the Clean Water Act. 

And they’ve gotten away with it…until now.  After massive public uproar and a multitude of tactics, including XRPDX’s garden on the tracks, the City finally found the courage to say no.

Because our city’s 2035 Comprehensive Plan has goals and policies to protect the health and safety of our communities, especially marginalized communities who have been sacrificed for far too long, and because of the will of the people, the City finally denied Zenith its Land Use Compatibility Statement which it needed to renew its DEQ Title 5 air pollution permit to continue operating. This happened on August 27, 2021.

So how in the hell is Zenith still operating?  It is because Zenith’s lawyers from Stoel Rives know that if they appeal the City’s denial of its Land Use Compatibility Statement,  Zenith has the legal right to continue business as usual.  So, first they appealed to the Land Use Board of Appeals and lost.  When they didn’t get their way, they took their case to the Oregon Court of Appeals and lost again. They have a few weeks to appeal to the Oregon Supreme Court, and they will continue to stall and stall and stall and keep operating, until we shut them down.


After hearing that history, many of you may be wondering why we are not sitting on tracks today.  Two weeks ago, when the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled in support of the City, we made a strategic decision that we would come in numbers today, with art, music and theater, and, from the sidewalk here, tell Zenith to Cease and Desist, and that we will come back and come back again and again with other more fun actions if their response is to continue to operate.

 When I retired from 40 years in the labor movement in 2017, I decided to focus my activist energy on climate, so I’m a late-comer in many ways. I have so much respect for all the work that you have done over the years. In late 2018 I heard about the Extinction Rebellion movement, and I felt the same way about XR that I did about my old organization, Jobs with Justice—that I wanted to do that. I think that building a mass movement doing direct action is key to stopping the worst impacts of the climate crisis.  

In February of 2019 the story about Zenith broke on OPB and in the Oregonian.  Like many others, I was outraged and cut out the news article and was looking for a way to work on Zenith.  I connected with XRPDX and at that first meeting–there was Jan, whom I knew from college and Sunnyside Environmental School and  there was a map of Zenith on the white board.  I was in the right place! The next XRPDX meeting I went to, in March, Ken Ward outlined the idea of building the garden

On Easter Sunday morning 2019, at 6 am, we brought a dump truck of soil and a tiny house and built the garden, thanks to Mike and Harlan and Dan and others.  We were there from 6 am Sunday to 4 pm on Monday, when we were arrested. The rail line was shut down for two days. Seven days later, a bunch of us went back and did it a second time.  This time we were arrested about three hours after we got there. Seven of us were arrested twice and five of the seven decided to plead not-guilty to one of the counts of criminal trespass.  

With awesome legal support from the Civil Liberties Defense Center and the National Lawyers’ Guild, we were able to present a full necessity defense, including expert testimony from a climate scientist. The courtroom was packed and the testimony was compelling.  Despite video evidence of us trespassing on Zenith’s property, we convinced 5 out of the 6 jurors to vote to acquit us. It was a legal milestone in terms of use of the necessity defense in climate cases and the case against us was dropped. 

As Jan said, Zenith is the poster child for what’s wrong with our whole system.  That they could use an old permit to expand operations in violation of the city’s policies means the system is broken. Here it is, 2 years after we built our garden, and Zenith does not have an air quality permit and yet it’s operating still. 

And there’s the bigger safety issue: Zenith ignores the recent earthquake report spelling out a disaster on the scale of Deep Water Horizon in terms of spills and an inferno much like Fukushima, threatening Forest Park and nearby communities. The report went through every tank in every facility in the CEI hub–and Zenith was the only company not reporting to DEQ what was in their tanks. They ignore the climate crisis and historical and continued harm on already impacted communities and wildlife.  

Zenith is going to say that they are part of the solution, that they are, or will be, moving into biofuels.  We have been watching the trains and the overwhelming majority of train cars coming through the Zenith yard in the last couple of months are carrying crude oil.  Then there are different kinds of biofuels and some are very carbon-intensive.  Many biofuel efforts are really just a form of greenwashing. That’s why we are encouraging the City to create a comprehensive biofuel policy. 


Margaret is right, Zenith will claim to be part of the solution, but it is actually part of a larger problem. In the words of Sarah Taylor, from the Braided River Campaign, “Vanport was flooded with water, the Critical Energy Infrastructure Hub was flooded with oil.”  This is because our land use laws prioritize and protect heavy industry, like Zenith, above all else.

In court, Stoel Rives has argued that zoning policy should trump our Comprehensive Plan and our city still has to prove that it doesn’t, before they can stop Zenith’s oil transport.

If giant fossil fuel corporations using dozens of acres for their industry, providing few jobs, are not what we want on our river,  then we must demand that the zoning laws change so we can begin the work of co-creating a green working waterfront that doesn’t kill us.


This means we must flood our city with our voices and when our voices aren’t heard, then we must flood the streets and the tracks with our bodies until Zenith Energy leaves our city and our land use policies are changed.  


City Budget: XRPDX Makes Its Demands!

To City of Portland Commissioners

A new city budget is coming around the corner, on the heels of a dire IPCC report. Portland, like most of the world, has not done enough to fight climate change, and we have no time to wait in enacting bold climate policy. The City of Portland is positioned to be a climate leader, and yet, we are the 26th worst city in the nation in CO2 emissions according to Global Gridded Model of Carbon Footprints GGMCF models.

We in Extinction Rebellion call upon the City of Portland to immediately commit to the following:

  • Hire a Climate Emergency Director with powers to shape a comprehensive Climate Emergency Response that defines concrete annual steps to reduce GHG emissions by 10% yearly. 
  • Implement and adopt a buildings code that mandates all new buildings to be carbon neutral starting no later than 2025, and commit to at least a 10% annual GHG reduction for existing commercial and multi-family units as new Build Shift policies are developed. Other peer cities are doing this and we can too! This must be done affordably: new building projects over 3 units should, in our recommendation, reserve at least 1/3 as affordable units. We must also institute an accelerated retrofit transition to electrical heat pumps to address heating and cooling for low income families as Seattle, Washington DC, and LA have done (in partnership with utilities and/or PCEF).
  • Pressure utilities to transition their entire energy markets to 100% true renewable energy (not gas or nuclear) as quickly as possible. Commit to funding community-controlled renewable energy options if PGE/Pacificorp do not clean up their entire energy grid.  Begin a managed transition of closing down the CEI Hub. Strengthen fossil fuel export language in the comprehensive plan to ensure Zenith and others cannot operate export facilities.  Start branch pruning whenever feasible such as decommissioning the leaking LNG tank and encouraging NW Natural to consider geothermal districts (see Geogrid pilot project) or use heat pump conversions to cover that reduction.
  • Reduce use of fossil fuel vehicle miles traveled [VMT] by 10% per year and issue an immediate moratorium on purchases of city-owned fossil fuel light duty vehicles. Fossil fuel VMT could be reduced through a combination of electrification and supporting infrastructure for electrification, expanding bike and pedestrian program options, providing education and support for car-free days, reducing costs and increasing efficiency of public transit, congestion pricing, alternatives to freeway expansion, and more. Pressure TriMet to issue their own moratorium on fossil fuel vehicles.
  • Set aside at least $50K of proposed tree planting monies to maintain newly planted trees, and issue a moratorium on cutting healthy old giants in shade-deficient areas both in right–of-ways and on private property until a new protective tree code can be developed. This moratorium is especially important given restrictions on large form trees in right-of-ways in low income areas.

Without these policies, Portland will continue to lag behind the IPCC requirements to avoid the worst effects of climate change. We implore the City of Portland to not only meet the IPCC requirements, but to exceed them, through concrete policy laid out here and implemented by a future director with the power to coordinate city bureaus in an effective climate response. This is our opportunity to be climate leaders and save our children’s future. The time to act is now!

[Editor’s note: Members of Extinction Rebellion PDX presented these demands to the Portland, Oregon City Council. Meetings with staff and City Commissioners followed.]