With Tar Sands Project in Mind, Pipeline Company Sues Maine Town

In another attempt by an oil company to force a small community to accept a dirty energy future it does not want, the Portland Pipe Line Company (PPLC) filed an aggressive lawsuit to overturn a statute passed by South Portland designed to protect health of its citizens and character of its city.  PPLC is not only seeking to have the law declared in violation of federal and constitutional law and stop South Portland from enacting it, but they are also seeking to have South Portland pay the company’s legal fees, insisting that the town of 25,000 has violated the oil company’s civil rights.

Last July, by a vote of 6 to 1, the city council of South Portland enacted the Clear Skies Ordinance.  The Ordinance is designed to prohibit the offloading of crude oil at the city’s port.  Unlike on-loading crude oil which has historically occurred at the Port, offloading oil would result in the construction of massive towers and toxic air emissions.

Gatherers protect tar sands in Portland.  Photo by Jim Murphy
Gatherers protect tar sands in Portland. Photo by Jim Murphy
Over the past two years, hundreds of South Portland residents have been involved in the effort to protect their community from the threat of toxic air pollution and smokestacks on their waterfront. This move by Portland Pipe Line, which has consistently heralded itself as a good neighbor in the city, flies in the face of what is clearly the will of the people in South Portland and the City.

Seeking to Silence the Will of a Community

After spending close to a millions dollars to narrowly defeat an earlier attempt by South Portland to protect its waterfront and then losing badly at the city council, PPLC now is telling South Portland it should not have a say over the future of its waterfront:

[I]t is up to federal authorities, not the City of South Portland, to determine what restrictions, if any, should be imposed on the loading and export of product onto ships through the Portland Harbor.

As Lisa Pohlmann, Executive Director of NWF’s Maine affiliate Natural Resources Council of Maine, said:

Portland Pipe Line has finally shown all its cards.  This action shows it doesn’t care about the will of the people of South Portland or their health and well being.  They are putting profits first for the company and its parent Exxon-Mobil.

Moose photographed by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant Mitchell Rothman

Trying to Bring Tar Sands to New England

The lawsuit also makes clear that the company almost certainly desires to trample on communities in its way and use the pipeline to move climate disrupting tar sands through the pipeline.  As the suit states:

PPLC’s pipelines are currently underutilized due to market conditions that favor the transportation of oil south from Canada to the United States and other international markets, instead of from the Harbor north to Canada … interference with these foreign affairs powers and with the exclusive federal authority over the flow of hydrocarbons through its pipelines adversely affects PPLC’s ability to respond to market conditions.

In Canada, pipeline giant Enbridge is seeking to move tar sands to New England’s doorstep, where it could hook up with PPLC’s pipeline.

Moving tar sands through New England would present immense threats to wildlife every step of the way.  Towns and cities along the route from Vermont’s remote Northeast Kingdom to South Portland have overwhelmed expressed opposition to having a tar sands project in their communities.

President Obama stands at the precipice of saying no to the Keystone XL pipeline because it will harm the climate.  The same is true for tar sands in Northeast.  The Administration should be poised to say no to climate disrupting tar sands if such a project is proposed for New England.

Take ActionAdd your voice to protect moose from deadly tar sands.