Towering smokestacks on the shores of Casco Bay

ExxonMobil wants to build a tar sands oil terminal in South Portland, one of the largest oil ports on the U.S. east coast. The terminal, which would be located between two historic lighthouses, would pollute the air and transform the coastline with 70-foot combustion stacks, the tallest in Portland Harbor. 

In July 2014, Environment Maine and the citizens group Protect South Portland convinced the South Portland City Council to block the oil terminal. However, the oil industry has vowed to use "all political and legal means" to overturn the new Clear Skies Ordinance. We are committed to defending our true David versus Goliath victory.

Polluting our air, transforming the coastline

Tar sands oil, which is mined in Alberta, Canada, is the dirtiest oil on earth. The oil industry is trying to greatly expand the tar sands industry, and South Portland is important to those plans, because it's the only U.S. city on the east coast with a deep-water port and that is connected to a crude oil pipeline.

Loading tar sands onto tankers in Casco Bay and storing the heavy, unconventional oil at the tank farms interwoven in the South Portland community would increase air pollution and threaten public health. 

The new 70-foot combustion smokestacks would emit volatile organic compounds, including hazardous air pollutants, like benzene, which cause cancer and other serious health problems at very low-levels of exposure. Volatile organic compounds also mix with sunlight and other chemicals to form smog, a potent lung irritant that contributes to respiratory and cardiovascular problems from asthma attacks to premature deaths. 

The smokestacks would be the tallest in the city and near Bug Light Park, Willard Beach, Fisherman’s Point, and the Greenbelt Walkway, harming scenic views and property values. 

Tar sands also poses numerous other risks to Maine, due to potential tanker spills in Casco Bay, pipeline spills in Sebago Lake, and a further destabilized climate.

Grassroots campaign builds public and political support to win

In early 2013, Environment Maine helped form Protect South Portland, a citizens group, to stop the tar sands oil terminal.

The groups qualified an initiative, the Waterfront Protection Ordinance, for the November 2013 ballot and ran a grassroots, neighbor-to-neighbor campaign to pass it. 

However, the American Petroleum Institute and its allies spent $750,000 to narrowly defeat the citizen’s initiative by attacking it as overly broad. To put this spending in perspective, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg spent $184 for every vote in his favor in one of the most expensive self-financed political campaigns in U.S. history.

We lost by 192 votes at the ballot but had swayed public opinion against tar sands. Immediately following the vote, we convinced the South Portland City Council to develop a new ordinance to block the tar sands oil terminal. 

In July 2014, with the city firmly behind it, the South Portland City Council passed by a 6-1 vote the Clear Skies Ordinance to prohibit the bulk loading of tar sands onto tankers on the waterfront and related infrastructure in the city. 

Fight isn't over

We expect the oil industry to sue in early 2015 to try to overturn the ordinance, but we're confident that we'll win in court.

As a backstop or insurance plan, we are also working to convince the U.S. State Department to require a new permit and full environmental review for any project to carry tar sands through the antiquated Portland-Montreal pipeline, which ends in South Portland. Senators Susan Collins and Angus King have a big role to play in convincing the State Department to step in.

And South Portland certainly is not alone. Many communities are dealing with tar sands infrastructure projects, such as pipelines and terminals, that are part of the oil industry's massive expansion plans for the extraction, transport, and refining of tar sands, and these projects have serious local impacts.

But our victory in South Portland shows that Big Oil is not invincible, and that the exploitation of tar sands is not inevitable. Communities are standing up, and powerfully so, to protect themselves—and we are winning.

Issue updates

News Release

Environment Maine Statement on Historic Tar Sands Vote Tonight

Portland—The South Portland City Council tonight will take its final vote on the Clear Skies Ordinance, a narrow ordinance that will prohibit the bulk loading of crude oil, including tar sands, onto tankers on the waterfront, as well as new related infrastructure in the city.

> Keep Reading
Report | Environment Maine

Driving Cleaner

Portland—More than 220,000 electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles are on America’s roads today, delivering real benefits for our health and our environment, according to a new report released today by Environment Maine. In just the last two years, annual sales of electric vehicles have increased by 500 percent.

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Headline

The Oil Industry Hits an Unexpected Roadblock

Opponents of tar sands—the massive bituminous oil deposits in Alberta, Canada with a greenhouse gas impact four times greater than that of standard crude—have inched one step closer to a major victory.

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Report | National Wildlife Federation

Catching the Wind: State Actions Needed to Seize the Golden Opportunity of Atlantic Offshore Wind Power

More than 1.5 million acres off the Atlantic coast have been designated for offshore wind power development, enough to produce more than 16,000 megawatts of electricity and power more than five million homes, according to a new report from the National Wildlife Federation.

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News Release | Protect South Portland

Tar Sands Ordinance Passes on Initial Vote

The South Portland City Council voted 6-1 tonight to pass the Clear Skies Ordinance, a new, narrow ordinance that will protect the city from tar sands.

> Keep Reading

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