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Forecaster Forum: 'Clear Skies' means slow-motion dismantling of South Portland's working waterfront

Opinion

Forecaster Forum: 'Clear Skies' means slow-motion dismantling of South Portland's working waterfront

No one will argue that responsible clean air regulations are essential for protecting Maine’s beautiful environment. But South Portland’s Draft Ordinance Committee  transformed a well-intentioned environmental effort into something else entirely, with serious repercussions for the entire working waterfront.

The DOC was originally tasked with developing an ordinance that would prevent Canadian oil sands crude from reaching South Portland’s working waterfront. But instead, their ordinance proposes to ban all crude oil – including American-produced crude – from safely loading in the Port of South Portland.

That is a dramatic expansion in scope and puts to rest the notion that this policy debate is simply about Canadian oil sands. It’s not. It’s now about the slow-motion dismantling of South Portland’s marine terminals and the jobs they support.

Consider the economic effects of this ordinance. If enacted, the so-called “Clear Skies Ordinance” will permanently lock South Portland’s terminals into their current operations, without any ability to change or grow along with America’s booming energy marketplace.

Just like any business with no ability to progress, the waterfront’s marine terminals will slowly decline and die. Some in the environmental movement may cheer such an outcome, but for hundreds of ordinary men and women making a living on the working waterfront, it could mean the loss of a solid, well-paying job that will never return.

And it’s not just the direct jobs at the terminals themselves. The terminals support untold numbers of other small businesses around the city, like barber shops, restaurants and grocery stores, tug boat operators, laborers, welders and pipefitters. Waterfront job losses will result in proportional losses off the waterfront as well.

What’s more, America’s energy sector is booming at the very time political instability in other oil-producing countries, like Iraq and Venezuela, are roiling international energy markets. It’s more critical than ever that the United States lessens its dependence on foreign energy sources that too frequently originate from unfriendly nations.

Why would the City Council voluntarily remove the Port of South Portland from playing an essential role in America's energy future and limit our ability to achieve energy independence? Why would they guarantee that South Portland and Southern Maine remains a distant observer of America's energy revolution rather than the beneficiaries of it?

The Clear Skies Ordinance prevents all of this from happening, while also raising gas and home heating oil costs because America’s inexpensive and abundant domestic energy will be forced to find longer, more expensive paths to refiners and ultimately to local markets.

The Port of South Portland has remained a reliable source of good jobs, innovation and the region's link to American and world energy markets for decades. Contrary to its name, the Clear Skies Ordinance would cloud South Portland’s economic outlook, putting hard-working people out of work while doing little to nothing to help local air quality or the environment.

On behalf of the Working Waterfront Coalition – of which I count myself a proud member – we urge the City Council to reject this ordinance.

Banning any form of bulk crude oil loading is a serious mistake. But banning American energy was certainly never the objective, and never should be.

Dick Ingalls is a resident of South Portland, a Maine Port Authority board member and a former chairman of the Portland Harbor Commission.