Communities in Action

South Portland, ME: Banning Tar Sands Once and for All:
Maine Community Organizer Andy Jones addresses the South Portland City Council in support of the Clear Skies Ordinance.

This July something truly historic happened in South Portland, Maine. A group of ordinary citizens stood up to ExxonMobil, one of the most powerful corporations in the world, and won.

The community group, Protect South Portland, was founded in early 2013 when residents came together to address concerns about tar sands oil, the dirtiest oil in the world, coming to their picturesque oceanfront city. South Portland is at one end of a World-War-Two-era pipeline that for over six decades has been used to transport traditional crude oil from ships offloaded in Casco Bay in South Portland up to refineries in Montreal.

Recently, industries have shifted and the pipeline’s owner proposed reversing the flow to bring tar sands oil down to South Portland. Local residents didn’t like the idea of their city becoming a conduit for the international trade of a toxic fossil fuel, and the pollution threats it brought, so they started organizing.

In the fall of 2013, with the help of Toxics Action Center and other local organizations, Protect South Portland ran an incredible campaign to educate residents, build the group and get people out to vote for the Waterfront Protection Ordinance to keep tar sands out. In the end, after outside oil interests spent $650,000 on a misinformation campaign, the ordinance lost by 1.5% of the vote. However, the citizen power did not disappear. The fight was not over.

At the beginning of 2014, the South Portland City Council appointed three members to a committee to draft a new ordinance banning Tar Sands in the city for good. The Draft Ordinance Committee worked diligently for months to ensure permanent protection for South Portland. In late July the City Council passed the new ordinance to the applause of hundreds of South Portland residents. Victory, at last.

Toxics Action Center congratulates Protect South Portland on their amazing success. We will continue to work with this community and others as they work to keep their neighborhoods safe from toxic threats.