© 2024 KLCC

136 W 8th Ave
Eugene OR 97401

Contact Us

FCC Applications
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Zenith Energy terminal nearing state approval to continue operating in Portland

FILE — Oil cars line up for unloading at the Zenith Energy oil terminal in Portland's Northwest industrial area in 2020.
Cassandra Profita
FILE — Oil cars line up for unloading at the Zenith Energy oil terminal in Portland's Northwest industrial area in 2020.

Zenith Energy’s multi-year battle with local environmental regulations could be coming to an end this year, as the Houston-based company inches closer to getting final state approval for its existing fuels terminal in Portland.

The terminal drew backlash from many environmental groups and Portlanders last year when city officials renewed Zenith’s local land-use permit. The company needed to renew its city land-use permit before renewing its state air quality permit.

The facility continues to face opposition over concerns about air and water pollution, as well as seismic risks. The terminal is located in an industrial hub that could release massive plumes of toxic chemicals in the event of a 9.0 Cascadia earthquake, which could happen in the next few decades.

Getting an air quality permit from the state is the last step Zenith needs to comply with state and federal environmental regulations. A spokesperson with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality says that could happen by the end of the year, if Zenith can prove its terminal complies with all other environmental laws.

The department is hosting a public information meeting Wednesday night, ahead of opening a public comment period for the draft air quality permit.

Zenith is currently operating its terminal under an old air quality permit, which is allowed during the permitting renewal process.

Zenith bought a 42-acre former asphalt refinery along the Willamette River in Northwest Portland’s industrial area in 2017. It uses the site to store and transfer fuels, mostly from railcars to ships.

Zenith tried to renew its state air quality permit in early 2021. Oregon DEQ denied that permit because operations at the facility had changed significantly, from manufacturing asphalt to storing and distributing fuels. State officials said Zenith needed to get a new land-use permit with Portland to reflect that change.

Portland officials that year denied Zenith’s land-use permit, saying it didn’t comply with several components of the city’s 2035 Comprehensive Plan. They specifically pointed to policies aimed at reducing emissions and pollution, preventing environmental disparities affecting marginalized communities, and reducing natural disasters and seismic risks.

Zenith appealed Portland’s denial to the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals. The board ruled the city failed to show how Zenith’s operations violated local land use policies.

The city subsequently agreed to renew Zenith’s land use permit in 2022, with some caveats. Among them, Zenith needs to reduce all crude oil within five years, reduce its number of storage tanks and reduce toxic emissions.
Copyright 2024 Oregon Public Broadcasting.

April Ehrlich began freelancing for Jefferson Public Radio in the fall of 2016, and then officially joined the team as its Morning Edition Host and a Jefferson Exchange producer in August 2017.