The Port of Vancouver appears to be close to enacting a policy barring the port from courting bulk fossil-fuel terminals, but there is no indication when it may take action.
Port commissioners reviewed a draft policy Tuesday both in an open session followed by a closed-door session called to discuss potential litigation.
Afterward, commissioners adjourned the meeting without making a decision.
“We still have to make sure we are protecting the port’s interests,” Commissioner Eric LaBrant said following the meeting. “We have to make sure we are following the law, and sometimes that is a complicated question.
“I would rather do it right than right now,” he added.
The draft renewable/clean energy policy states: “The port shall not pursue new bulk crude oil or coal terminals.”
Numerous Clark County residents have urged the port to expand that language to include liquefied natural gas and liquefied petroleum gas.
Linda Garcia, an activist from Vancouver’s Fruit Valley neighborhood who received the 2019 Goldman Environmental Prize for her work opposing a large rail-to-marine oil terminal at the port, urged commissioners to adopt a strong policy.
“It will put the Port of Vancouver in the spotlight for doing the right thing,” Garcia said.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Commissioner Don Orange said he wants to proceed, provided the policy does not affect existing port tenants. Orange raised two questions that went unanswered: How should the policy deal with biodiesel? Should the policy cover liquefied natural gas and liquefied petroleum gas?
“I’d like to get this thing addressed,” Orange said. “It feels like we have been talking about this for as long as I have been on the commission.”
Opposition to the oil terminal helped carry Orange to victory in 2017. More than $1 million poured into a hotly contested race that became a referendum on the oil terminal, which Gov. Jay Inslee rejected in January 2018.
Commissioner Jerry Oliver appears to oppose a blanket policy and instead supports evaluating any future fossil-fuel projects on a case-by-case basis.
Oliver is not running for a third six-year term this year. Two candidates, Jack Burkman and Dan Barnes, have filed for the nonpartisan position.
At the meeting, Oliver referred to a series of letters the port has received urging it not to adopt a blanket prohibition.
Those documents include a June 3 letter from the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce that references the port’s 2018 strategic plan and says the port should continue following environmentally sound practices “without artificial barriers, which very likely will have unintended consequences translating into fewer jobs and less vitality for all.”
A June 3 letter from Identity Clark County also references the port’s strategic plan and says additional policies “may invite confusion that weakens the port’s competitiveness and work counter to adoption of cleaner and more reasonable energy solutions by the port, its tenants and clients, and our community.”
During Tuesday’s meeting, port commissioners also heard from the Western States Petroleum Association, which represents oil-related companies in Arizona, California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.
Holli Johnson, senior coordinator for Northwest external affairs, said her association recognizes climate change is a serious issue but argued that the draft policy is the wrong approach.
“We need to do this right, and we can’t afford to do it wrong,” Johnson said.
A group of county residents concerned about climate change continued to lobby the port to adopt a policy against all fossil-fuel terminals.
“It’s time to be bold,” Den Mark Wichar said. “We have an emergency. If your friend is having a heart attack, you don’t stop to think about the consequences of helping your friend. You help your friend.”