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Northwest Environmental Defense Center (NEDC)

Oregon Regulators Welcome Dangerous Crude Oil

August 22, 2014

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Just one day after denying an application for a removal fill permit that would have enabled coal exports, Oregon authorized a state air permit that fails to protect Oregon’s air quality and local communities from the ongoing expansion of a massive crude-oil terminal on the Columbia River. 

Global Partners’ crude-oil facility was originally permitted for producing and shipping ethanol. But in 2012 the facility was quietly transformed into a shipping center for volatile crude oil transported by rail through the Columbia River Gorge, Portland and numerous other Oregon communities.

“Normally, a new permit would have been required to convert the facility to an oil terminal before shipping substantial amounts of crude,” said Marla Nelson, an attorney with NEDC. “However, under the guise of ‘operational flexibility,’ Oregon allowed Global to ship both crude and ethanol.”

When Global failed to move any ethanol and increased its crude shipments well beyond what Oregon allowed, Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality issued an order and a $117,292 penalty. Global contested the order and has since continued shipping crude oil without the necessary permit.

“Oregon should not turn a blind eye to the threat of oil trains and supertankers on the Columbia River,” said Brett VandenHeuvel executive director of Columbia RiverKeeper. “Approving Global’s permit threatens one of the world’s most important salmon nurseries.”

Global estimates it has the capacity to move 1.8 billion gallons of crude a year with its current facility and its track record includes many oil spills including one in Albany, New York on August 20. Despite the escalating risks associated with moving millions of gallons of crude in Oregon, Global’s concealment of the true nature of its operations and its continued crude-oil shipments through Oregon’s communities without the necessary air permit, Oregon issued a new permit for the facility that accounts for only a small portion of Global’s possible operations.

“Global’s ‘new’ air permit fails to comport with Clean Air Act requirements,” said John Krallman an attorney with Neighbors.  “With Global’s tremendous capacity and plans for expansion — including construction of a second dock at the oil terminal — this new permit is woefully inadequate to protect Oregon’s air quality.”

In May a coalition of regional and national conservation organizations, representing tens of thousands of Oregonians, called on the state to deny an air permit and instead initiate the necessary process for a federal permit that would require stringent controls to protect Oregon’s air quality. Based on Oregon’s proposal to issue an incorrect and less stringent state permit, Northwest Environmental Defense Center, Center for Biological Diversity and Neighbors for Clean Air filed a lawsuit in which they are represented by Earthjustice asking a federal court to require Global to go through the more rigorous federal permit process.

By issuing the state permit for a crude-oil terminal, Oregon has set an inconsistent policy that denies dirty coal but welcomes dangerous crude oil. As justification for denying Ambre Energy’s removal fill permit for a coal terminal at the Port of Morrow, the state explained that “it is not consistent with the protection, conservation, and best use of the state’s resources.” In striking contrast, the state took an extremely limited approach to analyzing the impacts of Global’s operations. DEQ stated Global’s terminal for volatile Bakken crude does not “present an imminent danger to human health or the environment.” The coalition of conservation groups says it will watchdog Global’s permits.

“In every step of this process Oregon regulators have chosen to ignore the skyrocketing risk to our health, safety and environment,” said Tanya Sanerib, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We will continue to fight to protect Oregonians from the escalating threats tied to these dangerous dirty oil shipments.”

More on Global’s crude oil transloading terminal in Clatskanie, Oregon: Earthfix - Oregon Approves Subsidies For Oil Transport, Not For Coal