Though it’s not likely to appease many Portlanders fighting to block the deal, there’s a chance that the construction of a propane export terminal in Portland could result in money for local biking improvements.
The opportunity arises as part of an offer from Pembina, the Calgary-based extraction company that needs city approval to run its pipeline through an environmental preservation zone on the way to the Port. Pembina has agreed that if its facility is built, it will among other things pay $6.2 million annually into a new “Portland Carbon Fund.”
According to the city, “the fund will be used for projects that reduce energy consumption, generate renewable energy and sequester carbon.”
The issue was covered Tuesday by the Portland Business Journal, which quoted mayoral spokesman Dana Haynes as saying “we haven’t had an opportunity to completely analyze what the planning commission has set forward.”
For comparison’s sake, the most recent draft of the city’s proposed street fund would bring $20 million a year for assorted street safety projects.
If the project were approved by city council at an expected hearing on April 30, there would surely be many hands reaching toward that new stream of money. The city is near the end of a six-year update to its Climate Action Plan, which calculates that transportation accounts for 37 percent of the region’s carbon emissions.
That makes transportation the largest single share of local carbon pollution, but that doesn’t mean that reducing transportation emissions would be seen as the highest-reward use of each Carbon Fund dollar.
Still, even $1 million of those $6.2 million would be enough for quite a bit of bike infrastructure. That’d be enough to fully restore the city’s defunct neighborhood greenway expansion program, for example, or to imitate Minneapolis’s new $750,000-a-year fund for protected bike lane construction, or to build 12 high-end signalized crosswalks each year, or to triple the number of regional Safe Routes to Schools programs from 40 to 130.
On the other hand, the propane export terminal would if built be responsible for shipping an estimated 0.01 percent of the planet’s annual carbon pollution.
In a closely watched vote last week, the Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission voted 6-4 to recommend a change to city zoning laws that would allow the project to be built.
Chris Smith, a low-car transportation advocate who led opposition to the export terminal on the planning commission, downplayed the chances that it might result in better bike infrastructure if built.
“You’d have to make the case that the infrastructure was getting people out of cars,” Smith said in an email Wednesday. “That’s possible of course, but I would guess that programs that can show carbon reduction more directly, and with a stronger equity case (e.g., low-income weatherization) are going to compete more strongly.”
“I think most people will decide to support or oppose the terminal on more fundamental principles,” Smith concluded.
Michael Andersen was news editor of BikePortland.org from 2013 to 2016 and still pops up occasionally.