The Port of Vancouver Commission voted unanimously this morning to end the controversial Vancouver Energy Tesoro Savage oil terminal lease, if Vancouver Energy cannot obtain the necessary licenses, permits and approvals required to operate by March 31.
A standing-room-only crowd, many of whom have been fighting against the Vancouver Energy crude-by-rail proposal for nearly five years, greeted the commissioners at their meeting this morning.
“Since 2013, we have urged the Port to protect clean air, clean water and our children’s future,” Don Steinke, a local leader in the campaign to stop the oil train terminal, said. “This is why the community elected Eric LaBrant and Don Orange to the Port Commission. This is the right decision for the community and the Port.”
If built, the crude-by-rail oil terminal would be the largest in the United States.
The project would bring 360,000 barrels of highly flammable Bakken crude oil into the Port of Vancouver every day, via trains that roll straight through Columbia River Gorge communities, including Camas and Washougal.
“Today’s vote highlights what people here and across the Pacific Northwest have been saying for years. We will not become just another polluted oil town,” said Rebecca Ponzio, director of Stand Up To Oil Campaign. “This should be a signal for communities across the country, the oil industry does not get to decide your future. Together, people are always more powerful than the money of oil companies.”
Dan Serres, conservation director of Columbia Riverkeeper, added: “The people of Vancouver have repeatedly signaled their emphatic opposition to a terminal that would bring up to five loaded oil trains each day through downtown Vancouver. Today’s vote honors the will of the people to move Vancouver towards a cleaner future that works for everyone, not just oil companies.”
Since being proposed in 2013, the project has garnered opponents — including the cities of Washougal, Vancouver and Portland, Clark County, the Vancouver Firefighters Union, Columbia Riverkeeper, several Native American Indian tribes, Friends of the Columbia Gorge, the Sierra Club and the Washington Environmental Council — who say the project poses enormous risks to the environment and to human health.
In November, Washington Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC) members heard key findings from the final Environmental Impact Statement on the Vancouver Energy project, which found that, even with recommended mitigation measures the oil terminal posed “significant, unavoidable, adverse environmental impacts.”
EFSEC later voted to recommend Gov. Jay Inslee deny the project.
“This massive oil-by-rail terminal was a direct threat to the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area and every community along the rail lines,” said Michael Lang, conservation director for Friends of the Columbia Gorge. “The Port listened to the concerns raised by Vancouver residents and made the right decision to terminate the lease.”
Voters in the Port district overwhelmingly threw their support toward the anti-oil terminal candidate for the Port Commission, Don Orange, in the November 2017 general election.
“Last November, the people of Vancouver spoke loud and clear by electing Don Orange for Port Commissioner,” said Shannon Murphy, president of Washington Conservation Voters. “Today’s vote shows why this community stood up for safe healthy neighborhoods and good clean jobs, and won’t sacrifice their future for the oil industry’s profits.”
Vancouver Energy spokesperson Jeff Hymas said after the EFSEC vote in November that the oil terminal backers were “extremely disappointed” and that the state review council was sending a “clear anti-development message that will have a chilling effect on business in the state of Washington.”
“(EFSEC) has set an impossible standard for new energy facilities based on the risk of incidents that the Final Environmental Impact Statement characterizes as extremely unlikely,” Hymas said.
But many community members at today’s Port of Vancouver Commission meeting had a different take on the issue.
“This community has tirelessly resisted this project over the last few years, showing up to countless public hearings and organizing to elect a Port Commission that shares their values,” said Cecile Gernez, conservation organizer with the Sierra Club Washington State Chapter. “It’s never been more important to fight against the special interests that would saddle our cities and towns with dangerous, polluting fossil fuel projects. This decision is proof: when we organize and fight together, we win.”
Gov. Inslee is expected to make his final decision — to either approve or deny the project — within the next few weeks. If the governor denies the project, Tesoro Savage could challenge the decision in Thurston County Superior Court, with a possible review by the Washington Supreme Court.