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Lawsuit Over Air Pollution Permits Targets Oregon Oil Terminal

July 2, 2014 | OPB
CONTRIBUTED BY:
Devan Schwartz


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  • This dock at the Port of St. Helens near Clatskanie, Oregon, is a component of a crude oil shipping project on the Columbia River. A lawsuit filed by environmental groups claims the project's operator lacks proper air pollution permits. credit: Cassandra Profita
This dock at the Port of St. Helens near Clatskanie, Oregon, is a component of a crude oil shipping project on the Columbia River. A lawsuit filed by environmental groups claims the project's operator lacks proper air pollution permits. | credit: Cassandra Profita | rollover image for more

The operator of an an oil-shipping terminal near Clatskanie in Northwest Oregon is being sued by environmental groups that say the facility lacks the proper permits and is doing environmental harm to local communities.

In 2012, an ethanol plant near Clatskanie was converted to handle the export of crude oil to West Coast refineries.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality allowed this shift. DEQ permitted the company to move crude from trains to ships, citing negligible impacts on air quality.

Three conservation groups – Northwest Environmental Defense Center, Neighbors for Clean Air, and the Center for Biological Diversity – disagree.

They’re suing to make Global Partners and related companies complete a full permitting process. They’re also alleging that more crude oil was transported than existing permits allow, which could trigger steep fines.

Janette Brimmer, a lawyer with Earthjustice, says local communities deserve the full protection of the laws.

“Look, we need to protect the environment — these laws are in place for a reason,” said Brimmer, who is representing the environmental groups in the lawsuit. “And by the environment, I also mean the lives and livelihoods of the folks that are going to be impacted.”

In terms of health risks, she cited respiratory issues resulting from ground level ozone released by the oil trains.

State regulators have already issued a $117,000 fine for moving more oil than legally allowed. That fine is being contested by Global Partners.

A Global Partners representative said the company hasn’t received the new complaint but that it is currently operating legally within its current permits.

Lawyers expect the case to be tied up with pretrail activities through the rest of the year. The soonest it would go to trial is 2015, they said.

© 2014 OPB
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