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Maine Victory: City Council Prevents Tar Sands Oil Exports

July 23, 2014

Tar Sands oil extraction: before and after. Photo: David Bergman, from Ecooptimism.

The fight against extreme energy extraction, now ongoing in hundreds of communities across the United States and the world, expanded to include another significant victory on Monday night in the town of South Portland, Maine.  Townspeople and Maine environmental groups organized a “relentless 18-month campaign,” as the Los Angeles Times put it, resulting in a near-unanimous City Council vote (6-1) passing a Clear Skies Ordinance preventing the export of crude oil from South Portland’s waterfront.

The new Maine victory follows upon the use of tactics as diverse as tree-sits, nonviolent direct action blockades, massive marches on Washington, and even a blockade of the Douglas Channel in British Columbia made of yarn knit by members of the indigenous Gitga’at Nation. In particular, activists from Texas to Maine, from Nebraska to British Columbia, are expanding their tactical toolkit — now including this old-fashioned community organizing win — in campaigns to stop pipelines from exporting dirty, climate-destroying oil from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada.

Tar Sands Blockade: “Spectacular Aerial Tree Blockade Halts Construction in Solidarity with Idle No More First Nations Movement.” Photo:

In “Maine Town Fights Plan to Use Pipeline to Export Oil Sands Crude,” the Los Angeles Times captured the significance of the Maine battlefront, and the atmosphere in South Portland, right before Monday night’s vote:

Tom Blake, like thousands of his neighbors in this coastal town, is used to living alongside the oil industry. Tank farms cluster in neighborhoods, by the park where families watch the movie “Frozen” on a summer night, next to schools and senior citizens apartment buildings. As a child, Blake, the town’s former mayor, used to jump into high snow drifts from the massive oil tank next door.

Now, after decades as a New England hub for importing crude oil and distributing fuel, South Portland is enmeshed in a dispute with the oil industry that echoes far beyond southern Maine.

On Monday night, the South Portland City Council, including Blake, is expected to pass an ordinance that would prevent the export of crude oil from the waterfront. The product of a relentless 18-month campaign by residents and Maine environmental groups, the measure is a response to plans by Portland-Montreal Pipe Line, or PMPL, to reverse the flow of its import pipeline in order to export oil sands crude from Canada, the same petroleum that would run through the controversial Keystone XL pipeline in the Great Plains.

“This isn’t an anti-Portland pipeline company measure,” Blake said. “It’s anti-dirty oil.”

Maine State Representative Diane Russell (D- Portland) sent an email to Moveon members describing the victory, framing it as “one hell of a punch,” but warning that the struggle isn’t over.

Protecting Our Waters is publishing Rep. Russell’s email in full below, for several reasons. First, because the South Portland victory is a critical one in the particular fight against tar sands oil extraction. Second, because a victory against a new fossil fuel export pipeline anywhere is a victory — and a model — for fights against fossil fuel export pipelines everywhere. Third, because the South Portland City Council vote increases the positive cumulative impact of the current string of wins against extreme energy extraction, from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision overturning the core of Act 13, to the New York high court upholding the Dryden and Middlefield fracking bans. Finally, amidst the sheer effort of it all, one of the best antidotes to burnout is to fully observe, understand, and celebrate every victory along the way.  So here is Rep. Russell’s summary:

Rep. Diane Russell. Photo:, from Huffington Post.

Last night, a small Maine town delivered one hell of a punch to people who support transporting Tar Sands oil from Canada. Let me give you a little history on this remarkable victory.

I live right on Casco Bay, a beautiful ocean vista, home to a vibrant working waterfront. The Fore River empties into the bay and provides the deepest port on the East Coast, meaning ships and freighters routinely deliver or pick up goods. South Portland sits on the other side of the Fore River, just across the bridge. In addition to having its own vibrant working waterfront, South Portland is the end point to a gas pipeline that currently sends crude oil north to Canada. People are concerned that one day, that pipeline will be reversed and Tar Sands oil will be transported South, endangering our air quality and Casco Bay.

It’s important to know that South Portland is essential if crude oil ever is to be piped to the East Coast as it’s the exit to the only pipeline coming from Canada on the East Coast. And, the East Coast is by far the highest population density. The very fact that so much money was spent on this otherwise minor, small town referendum, demonstrates just how essential it is to access that pipeline, and just how real concerns are that the direction of the pipeline could be reversed.

Last year, citizens collected petitions to place an ordinance on the ballot. Although there are currently NO plans to reverse the course of the pipeline, this small ordinance referendum in a small coastal town found itself at the heart of the Tar Sands battle. In fact, more than $600,000 was spent on the election. Environmentally sensitive voters lost that referendum by a very slim margin. Immediately after the election last November, the City Council placed a one-year moratorium on importing Canadian crude oil while it studied the matter.

Last night, after months of testimony and work, hundreds of people showed up to a City Council hearing in support of the new proposed Clear Skies Ordinance. The effort was worth it because the City Council voted 6-1 in support of zoning changes that will block the potential export of Canadian crude oil through their end of the pipeline. This was a huge victory, and demonstrates clearly the power of individuals who stand up for the safety of their town.

The fight’s not over; industry representatives are already planning to collect signatures to repeal the City Council decision, but for now environmentally concerned people have won a remarkable victory.

Follow the play-by-play on Twitter at #SoPoME ~ and I’ve included some relevant articles. Feel free to share widely!

Keep up the fight!

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