The road to transitioning to clean energy can be filled with potholes and detours, as one company in Portland has experienced. Oregon takes our goals of achieving zero-emission standards and keeping our air and water clean extremely seriously. As a result, new “green” businesses entering the state are under extreme scrutiny to ensure their intentions and actions are aligned with the State.
Zenith Energy is one such business with an interesting story in the news right now. In 2017, Zenith purchased a former asphalt production facility and converted it into a storage warehouse for fossil fuels. Essentially, they receive inventory from trucks and barges and store the fuel in large tanks for further distribution. In 2019, they announced they were going to expand their operations into renewable energy. Those claims were met with significant skepticism.
Zenith is a Houston-based energy company that stores and transports bulk fuel and other liquid industrial substances. When they first announced they planned to add renewable energy to their portfolio that previously contained only crude oil, Portland businesses, and environmental groups suspected the company was using the strategy to divert attention away from growth in their crude oil operations. City officials expressed concern about methylene diphenyl diisocyanate (MDI) that was planned to run via pipes across NW Front Avenue to reach the McCall dock on the Willamette River, especially since they felt Zenith was not transparent in previous conversations with them about the origin of crude oil in a meeting months before.
Despite those hurdles, they forged ahead, and Zenith announced on August 27 that they achieved a 300% increase in the amount of low-carbon, renewable diesel fuel stored in the Portland facility.
According to Zenith CEO Jeff Armstrong: “We acquired this Terminal to capitalize on the growing demand for renewable fuels in Oregon and throughout the western United States. This growth is driven by aggressive and necessary carbon reduction goals set by municipalities, states, and the private sector. The Portland Terminal can play a significant role in helping Oregon meet its carbon reduction goals by making clean, renewable fuels readily available for public and private sector fleet owners.”
On Zenith’s website, they vocalize their commitment to helping Oregon and the United States achieve zero-emission goals by increasing the availability of biodiesel. With oversight from the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), Oregon’s Clean Fuels Program seeks to reduce the carbon footprint explicitly associated with transportation. The program aims to reduce the amount of lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions per unit of energy by a minimum of 10% below 2010 levels by 2025.
Yet, controversy remains. Only a few days after Zenith’s announcement, OPB reported that the City of Portland denied approval for a land-use compatibility certification Zenith needs to operate their terminal. They cited the continued shipping of fossil fuels that can directly impact tribal territories, cultural resources, and tribal treaty rights as the reason for the denial. As a result, the DEQ decided not to renew Zenith’s air quality permit application. Additionally, the DEQ disclosed that they recently fined Zenith $24,000 for construction without a permit regulating sediment runoff into the Willamette River.
Zenith intends to appeal to all of these decisions.
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