Portland Mayor, Councilor Endorse Making Portland City Operations Tar Sands-Free

Portland City Council to vote this evening on policy modeled after commitments already made by 18 major corporations

Environment Maine

PORTLAND — Portland Mayor Michael Brennan and City Councilor David Marshall today joined Environment Maine, the Sebago Lake Anglers Association, 350 Maine, NRCM, and others to press for passage of a new policy that would make Maine’s largest city tar sands-free. If Portland passes the policy, the City Council would direct the City Manager not to purchase any oil-based fuels from refineries that process tar sands. The Environmental Performance Policy is intended to minimize the environmental impact of City operations.

Environment Maine delivered to the Mayor and Councilor Marshall a petition signed by 2,475 Portlanders asking the City Council to pass the tar sands-free policy.

“Tonight’s policy, which seeks to eliminate the use of polystyrene, water bottles, and tar sands oil in City operations, is the latest step towards reaching our sustainability goals,” stated City of Portland Mayor Michael Brennan. “As Maine’s largest city, we have a responsibility to lead and demonstrate to others that by enacting reasonable policies we can make a real difference in the effort to halt climate change and reduce greenhouse emissions.”

The proposal before the City Council is in part a response to a proposed plan by Enbridge Pipelines Inc. to reverse one of its oil pipelines in Canada, which would open the door to the transport of tar sands oil to Eastern Canada and ultimately through Maine. Tar sands oil is considered “the dirtiest oil on the planet” due to the elevated climate impacts and highly acidic nature associated with the controversial Canadian heavy oil. There is now heightened awareness throughout New England that a scheme being quietly pursued by Enbridge and ExxonMobil’s Portland Pipe Line Corporation would bring tar sands through the region.

“The Portland City Council is poised to be the first on the east coast to adopt a purchasing policy restricting tar sands oil. We have worked hard to reduce our municipal carbon emissions by more than 30 percent.  Restricting the use of tar sands, the most carbon intensive oil in the world, is consistent with our long standing carbon reduction goals,” said Councilor David Marshall.

“Tar sands oil is dirty, dangerous, and doesn’t deliver for Portland. Just imagine cleaning up a tar sands spill on a winter day like today. Thousands of Portland residents have signed our petition, and we urge the City Council to protect our city by making Portland tar sands-free,” said Environment Maine Director Emily Figdor.

The proposed policy is modeled after commitments that have been already adopted by 18 major corporations, including Walgreens, Trader Joes, and Patagonia. Starting with Bellingham, Washington, on the west coast, which adopted the first resolution against the use of tar sands, the trend against tar sands among U.S. cities has now spread to Portland. Most recently, Burlington, Vermont and Casco have adopted anti-tar sands municipal commitments.

“If I were Big Oil in this tar sands chess game, I’d be getting nervous. Cities from coast to coast—along with 18 major corporate brands—are snubbing tar sands products,” said Aaron Sanger, U.S. Campaigns Director for ForestEthics. “The market has turned against Canada’s toxic tar sands.”

The issue has gained prominence because oil companies want to use a 63-year-old pipeline that passes next to Sebago Lake to carry tar sands oil from Canada to Casco Bay, where it would be loaded onto tankers for export. Studies show that pipelines carrying thick, hot, corrosive tar sands oil spill three times more frequently per mile than conventional oil pipelines. Moreover, a tar sands spill causes far more damage than a conventional oil spill and is nearly impossible to clean up because the heavy oil tends to sink in water.

“The Sebago Lake Anglers Association passed a Resolution in December strongly opposing the transport of tar sands oil through the Sebago Lake watershed, Crooked River, and areas adjacent to Sebago Lake. We are deeply concerned that a spill of diluted bitumen in that area could irreparably pollute Portland’s water supply, destroy priceless land-locked salmon fisheries in the Sebago watershed, and ruin property values downstream from any spill and throughout the Sebago Lake region,” said Eliot H. Stanley, Member of the Sebago Lake Anglers Association Board for Conservation Issues.

Diluted bitumen, a rawer form of tar sands oil, is extremely thick and heavy, requiring additional pressure and chemicals to thin it out enough to move through a pipeline. The 2010 Enbridge pipeline spill in Michigan’s Kalamazoo River is a vivid example of the difficulty and expense associated with diluted bitumen spills. That cleanup continues today and stands as the most expensive inland oil spill in American history.

“The more we learn about the dangers and impacts of tar sands, the more we realize how important it is for communities like Portland to take a stand against this dirty oil,” said Danielle Droitsch of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The Portland City Council is considering the issue on the eve of the biggest tar sands protest ever in the region, as hundreds of people from across New England are expected to gather for a big march and rally in downtown Portland on Saturday, January 26, demonstrating opposition to the ExxonMobil pipeline. More information about the rally can be found here.

“Portland and tar sands are incompatible,” said Dylan Voorhees, Clean Energy Director with the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “Tar sands is one of the dirtiest sources of energy on the planet, while Portland is proudly one of the greenest cities in the country. Fuel from dirty tar sands should have no place in municipal buildings and vehicles, and we urge the City Council to pass this resolution to make sure that never happens.”

“Confronting the enormous climate change impacts of tar sands oil requires aggressive action – and the City of Portland’s would be making a courageous, inspiring, and planet-saving commitment if the Council passes the policy,” said Bob Klotz of 350 Maine.


Emily Figdor, Environment Maine, 207-408-0295 (c), 207-253-1965 (o)
Kristi Chester Vance, Forest Ethics, 415-902-5885
Josh Mogerman, Natural Resources Defense Council, 312-651-7909
Judy Berk, Natural Resources Council of Maine, 207-462-2192


Environment Maine is a citizen-based environmental advocacy organization working to preserve Maine’s open spaces, protect clean air and water, and steer the state toward a clean energy future.