ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Environmentalists along the coast of Maine are celebrating a victory today. The South Portland City Council has passed a measure that would block Canadian tar sands oil and other crude from being loaded onto tanker ships at the city's port. That ordinance could complicate future plans for a pipeline that runs across northern New England. But as Susan Sharon of Maine Public Radio reports, Canadian crude has other routes into the region.
SUSAN SHARON, BYLINE: Known as the place where Liberty ships were built by tens of thousands of workers during World War II, South Portland's waterfront is home to an oil terminal and the beginning of a 236-mile-long pipeline.
JERRY JALBERT: Right now we're looking at Portland Harbor and we're looking at a tanker that's coming in right now.
SHARON: Jerry Jalbert is South Portland's mayor. For more than 70 years, he says, the Portland Montreal Pipeline Corporation has pumped crude up through the pipeline that crosses Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, to be refined in Montreal. Canada itself is now in the midst of an oil boom. And the company has expressed interest in using its pipeline to carry Canadian crude in the opposite direction, from Montreal to Maine for delivery to the world market.
JALBERT: And people are concerned. What happens if we have a large amount of tankers that are being loaded with crude oil?
SHARON: That's because the industrial waterfront is changing. The old shipyard has been replaced by a city park with scenic views of the harbor. High-priced condos are a stone's throw away. And Jalbert says residents' concerns about air pollution, the possibility of a spill and the difficulty of cleaning up a heavier, more toxic form of crud moved the council to ban tar sands.
JALBERT: The Clear Skies Ordinance prohibits the bulk loading of crude oil onto marine tank vessels. It does not affect any current operations.
SHARON: Current business isn't affected, but the oil industry doesn't like it. Matt Manahan, an attorney for the Portland Montreal Pipe Line Corporation, warned council members before their final vote that he doesn't think it will hold up in court.
MATT MANAHAN: This ordinance, if passed, would clearly be pre-empted by federal and state law. There can be no doubt about that and it's a mistake to move forward with an illegal ordinance.
SHARON: Pipeline company officials say they are now evaluating their legal options. They say the ordinance restricts their ability to adapt to a changing market and to meet the energy needs of the region. At least one oil industry analyst is skeptical.
TOM KLOZA: I don't think this is going to make a big difference in terms of northeastern crude oil supply.
SHARON: Tom Kloza is with gasbuddy.com. He says even without the pipeline, Canadian crude is still coming.
KLOZA: One thing we've learned in the last couple of years is that you can move crude oil by rail very very quickly. I mean, the crude's going to come from the oil sands to the United States and to other points.
SHARON: That may be true. But Dylan Voorhees of the Natural Resources Council of Maine says what happened in South Portland is galvanizing activists around the country, who are raising awareness about the threat of tar sands.
DYLAN VOORHEES: And they are getting a boost, a shot in the arm, to see citizens in South Portland successful in a persistent effort against all odds and against oil to get their community protected.
SHARON: If there are problems with the ordinance - if it is too restrictive, Mayor Jalbert says the council can always make revisions. But in the event of a lawsuit, Jalbert says South Porland will defend the ordinance and mount a national online campaign to get environmental groups and other supporters to pay for it.
SIEGEL: This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.
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