Forecaster Forum: South Portland just another page out of oil industry tar sands playbook

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Last week, the South Portland Community Center was packed with nearly 500 people, the vast majority of whom live in South Portland and were there in support of the “Clear Skies Ordinance,” a new law that will protect the community from tar sands.

The room was packed because tar sands is a local issue.

Tar sands is traded on the global market, and South Portland is a potential through-way, so of course there are impacts beyond South Portland. This is certainly true from the environmental perspective.

However, it’s South Portland that would be home, if the oil industry secures its goal of using Maine as a through-way to the highest bidder, to new vapor combustion units (smokestacks) that would emit cancer-causing chemicals like benzene, and pose a major health risk to nearby residents. It’s a fundamentally different concern to fear that your family’s going to breathe contaminated air than to think about tar sands from an abstract perspective.

For others, this is not a local fight at all.

If you look at the fine print on the full-paged tar sands advertisements taken over the last several months in The Forecaster, Sentry and Current, you’ll see they were paid for by Energy Citizens. The ads direct people to, which is also paid for by Energy Citizens.

Energy Citizens is a well-documented front group for the American Petroleum Institute, which has been used to manufacture fake grassroots support (otherwise known as Astroturf) for the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

The American Petroleum Institute is the Washington, D.C.-based lobbying and trade arm for the oil and gas industry. The API is responsible for millions of dollars’ worth of lobbying each year, including more than $22 million on the Keystone tar sands pipeline alone. The API has a highly vested interest in steamrolling local concerns to get tar sands to the world market.

Earlier this month, Environment Maine released a report that analyzes tactics used by the oil industry to bring tar sands through Maine. We found they rely heavily on four tactics: spend big, hide the role of Big Oil, deny tar sands plans, and manufacture and play up economic concerns. All of these are the same tried-and-true tactics that the oil industry has used time and time again across the U.S. and Canada to push its tar sands agenda.

South Portland, for the oil industry, is just another page out of their playbook. For the American Petroleum Institute, there’s nothing unique or local about South Portland.

The South Portland City Council has done well in listening carefully and responding to public concerns over tar sands by setting up an inclusive, transparent and deliberative process to craft the Clear Skies Ordinance.

The public of South Portland has done well in participating in this process: showing up to meetings, speaking up, educating family and friends. It’s a terrific, top-notch example of democracy at work.

I’m putting my money on the locals on this one.

Taryn Hallweaver is campaigns director of Environment Maine.