Maine Conservation Groups Gather with South Portland Residents to Celebrate and React to Tar Sands Vote

PORTLAND, ME - In an historic vote, the South Portland City Council last night voted 6-1 to pass the Clear Skies Ordinance to protect the city from a tar sands crude oil terminal. The city developed the ordinance after Protect South Portland’s neighbor-to-neighbor campaign educated and mobilized the community against tar sands over the last year and a half. Conservation groups and South Portland residents gathered to reflect, stating that the victory shows that citizens can overcome out-of-state oil interests. It provides a telling example of how local communities threatened with local impacts of tar sands are saying “No.”

“We may be a small city, but, boy, we’ve done a big thing tonight! The Clear Skies Ordinance protects our air, our coast, and our community,” said Mary-Jane Ferrier, spokesperson for Protect South Portland. “We are absolutely thrilled, relieved, and exhausted. Of course, we know it may not be over yet, and we’re committed to defend this victory from oil industry attacks.”

The Clear Skies Ordinance prohibits the bulk loading of tar sands onto tankers on the waterfront and forbids the construction of infrastructure for that purpose. Bulk loading of tar sands would increase air pollution, including volatile organic compounds and hazardous air pollutants, on the waterfront and surrounding the tanks next to schools and throughout the community. Two 70-foot tall combustion smokestacks on the pier next to Bug Light, such as those previously permitted by the city and state for bulk loading of tar sands, would harm scenic views and property values.

“Last night’s victory shows that no one is above the democratic process, and when out-of-state oil interests try to throw their weight around to pollute a Maine town, we know how to say ‘no.’” said Dylan Voorhees, Clean Energy Director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “More broadly, communities everywhere are waking up to the fact that tar sands are a dirty, toxic energy source.”

“Last night citizens working to protect their community prevailed over Big Oil. It is a true David versus Goliath victory,” said Environment Maine’s Taryn Hallweaver. “The oil industry is not invincible, and the exploitation of tar sands is not inevitable. From Nebraska to Maine, citizens are standing up, and powerfully so, to protect their communities—and we are winning. We’re hopeful that South Portland’s action will empower other communities threatened by new tar sands infrastructure to protect themselves."

South Portland has been at the center of a battle over tar sands for more than a year, in reaction to the possibility of tar sands coming to the port city from Canada, as has been discussed by the oil industry. South Portland is the only U.S. city on the east coast with a deep-water port and that is connected to a crude oil pipeline. The American Petroleum Institute and its allies spent $750,000 last fall to narrowly defeat a citizen’s initiative the block the tar sands terminal by attacking it as overly broad.
“To be clear, Toxics Action Center would be fighting this dangerous proposal in any town, but I am from South Portland, so this victory has a special meaning for me,” said Andy Jones, a South Portland resident and organizer for the Toxics Action Center. “It means that my friends, neighbors and family members will be protected from toxic air pollution.”  

All communities, wherever they are, have a right to protect their citizens and their way of life,” said Sarah Lachance with 350 Maine. “Having just returned from Fort McMurray, Alberta and witnessed first-hand the level of destruction caused by tar sands extraction, it is painfully clear how tar sands already is impacting communities. But sustained efforts, like the one here in South Portland, serves as a strong reminder that communities can come together to protect themselves.”

“What’s really amazing about this whole process is how much it has brought the community together,” said Crystal Goodrich, a volunteer with Protect South Portland. “So many people have come together to fight for the future of our city. Hundreds of people have volunteered countless hours, talking to neighbors, collecting petitions, making phone calls, and attending meeting after meeting. We also had the assistance of Maine environmental groups, and their expertise was invaluable. We couldn’t have done this without them.”

The South Portland Planning Board found in a 6-1 vote last week that the Clear Skies Ordinance is consistent with South Portland’s comprehensive plan, which is rooted in a decades-long planning process.

“Yesterday South Portland’s City Council exercised the right that communities across Maine have to protect the health and quality of life for its citizens,” said Ivy Fignoca, a staff attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation. “The Clear Skies Ordinance is narrowly tailored to address the bulk loading of crude oil only and is consistent with South Portland’s comprehensive plan and state and federal law.  We would hope that the American Petroleum Institute and its members would respect that but should they decide to bring lawsuits against the Clear Skies Ordinance and force the City to incur the associated costs in time and money, the Conservation Law Foundation will join the City in defending the ordinance.”

The ordinance was developed by a Draft Ordinance Committee, comprised of three volunteer experts on land use, law, science, and environmental management, as well as a moderator, who met 20 times over several months in a highly transparent process to gather information, hear from the public and stakeholders, and develop a policy that addressed concerns about tar sands without adversely affecting South Portland’s existing refined oil operations.



The Toxics Action Center has helped more than 675 neighborhood groups across New England fight toxic pollution in their communities. They work on a variety of initiatives including cleaning up hazardous waste sites, stopping proposed landfills and incinerators, curbing pesticide spraying, and other issues that threaten the health and safety of residents, neighborhoods, and the environment. 

Learn more here