When we fight, we win: How communities across North America are stopping fossil fuel projects

September 12, 2018

This is a story about hope in dark times, about people saying #PermissionDenied to one dirty energy project after another.

With all eyes on California and Gov. Jerry Brown during the Global Climate Summit on September 12-14 in the San Francisco Bay Area, the Extreme Oil campaign at Stand.earth took an opportunity to peer into our campaign history books and examine some of our movement’s major wins against fossil fuel companies — and highlight the projects that are still being fought. Follow along as we tell our story (and yours!) on Twitter at @standearth.

This is a story about hope in dark times, about people saying #PermissionDenied to one dirty energy project after another. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau once said “governments grant permits, communities grant permission.” And he’s right. The truth is: When we fight, we win. Here’s how: By working with allies and grassroots supporters, communities and coalitions have been able to stall, hamper, and ultimately shut down dozens of projects that would have caused irreparable harm to people and places across North America.

While the fight continues against tar sands, extreme oil, and coal projects across North America, let’s take a look back at 10+ projects, where communities said: “The government may issue permits, but we live here, and we say #PermissionDenied.”

1. WesPac mega oil terminal

  • What: An oil train terminal/tank farm that would have moved 88M barrels/year of explosive Bakken oil through CA
  • Where: Pittsburg, CA
  • Status: #PermissionDenied in April 2015

The win: Following growing and organized community opposition, the permits for the train terminal were denied in April 2015. In December, the company backed out of constructing the tank farm because “economic conditions had changed.” Exactly.

Learn more: California communities fight back against crude by rail (Grist, December 2014)

2. Valero Refinery Expansion

  • What: Plan to bring in a 100 car-long oil train every day
  • Where: Benicia, CA
  • Status: #PermissionDenied in September 2016

The win: Local leaders in this small community not only said #PermissionDenied to this project, but established a national precedent that local governments can/should consider up-rail impacts in local permits. This bolstered efforts to #StopOilTrains in many other communities.

Learn more: Stopping oil trains is right thing for Benicia and planet (San Francisco Chronicle, April 2016)

3. Phillips 66 San Franciso Refinery Expansion

  • What: Oil train project would have brought 5 tar sands trains a week through communities across California
  • Where: Santa Maria, CA
  • Status: #PermissionDenied in September 2016

The win: San Luis Obispo County supervisors said #PermissionDenied to the Phillips 66 Rail Spur project after they received letters from more than 45 cities, counties, and school boards, nurses and teachers unions, & more than 25,000 Californians opposed to the tar sands rail terminal.

Learn more: Oil Trains Defeated at San Luis Obispo Planning Commission (Santa Barbara Independent, October 2016) 

4. Tesoro Savage Vancover Energy

The win: 1000s of community members said #PermissionDenied and asked Washington Gov. Jay Inslee to reject the permit. After a clear recommendation from advisors at EFSEC, he did. For good measure, the community then elected new port commissioners to repeal the company’s lease. Good riddance!

Learn more: The Fight Over Oil Trains In The Pacific Northwest Is Heating Up (ThinkProgress, June 2016)

5. Gateway Pacific Terminal

  • What: North America’s largest proposed coal export terminal
  • Where: Traditional Lummi territory of Xwe’chi’eXen, just north of Bellingham, WA
  • Status: #PermissionDenied #TreatyWin

The win: The Lummi Nation asserted their opposition to the project as a violation of the treaty rights that guarantee fishing access. The #LummiLegacy was confirmed by the Army Corps of Engineers. Opposition around the region was organized by Power Past Coal. A new Whatcom County Council was elected in 2013, largely by coal opponents. That council passed a moratorium on unrefined fossil fuel export projects, canceled plans for the GPT pier, and is planning to permanently ban bulk coal storage facilities, period.

Learn more: How Lummi Nation’s Treaty Stand Beat Big Coal (Sightline Institute, May 2016) and As Oysters Die, Climate Policy Goes on the Stump (New York Times, August 2014)

6. 3 bad ideas, one small community

  • What: 3 Oil Train Terminals
  • Where: Grays Harbor, WA
  • Status: #PermissionDenied between 2015 and 2017

The win came from public opposition by the Quinault Nation, local leaders, Earth Justice, and Stand Up To Oil. All 3 oil train projects were abandoned, withdrew their applications, didn’t renew their lease, and/or lost a legal decision in the WA Supreme Court. #StopOilTrains

Learn more: Grays Harbor oil terminal would threaten Quinault Indian identity (Seattle Times, June 2015)

7. Project: Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline

  • What: A tar sands pipeline to get Canadian crude onto tankers in the Pacific
  • Where: Alberta to BC
  • Status: Rejected by the courts and communities #PermissionDenied

The win: Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline had it’s #PermissionDenied when 60 First Nations in BC signed the Save the Fraser Declaration in 2010. Dozens more nations joined, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau banned tankers on the N. Coast, and eventually denied the pipeline completely.

Learn more: Northern Gateway rejection proves communities can stop pipelines – including Trans Mountain (West Coast Environmental Law, December 2016)

8. Shell Puget Sound Refinery Oil Train Expansion

  • What: terminal proposed to accept 6 unit trains a week full of bakken crude oil
  • Where: Anacortes, WA
  • Status: #PermissionDenied in October 2016. #ShellNo

How we won: after the environmental impact statement concluded that oil trains were a significant and unmitigatable risk, and just after 2 other projects had local #PermissionDenied in San Luis Obispo and Benicia, CA, Shell withdrew the application because it was no longer “economically viable.”

Learn more: Shell Calls Off Oil Train Plans For Puget Sound Refinery In Anacortes (KNKX, October 2016)

9. Millennium Bulk Coal Terminal

  • What: An enormous coal export terminal on the Columbia River
  • Where: Longview, WA
  • Status: #PermissionDenied

How we won: More than a quarter million people, organzied by Power Past Coal, have sent comments saying #PermissionDenied to the Millennium Coal Terminal. The Department of Ecology, State Lands Commissioner and Shoreline Hearings Board all agreed.

Learn more: Greenhouse gases, cancer risk tied to proposed Longview coal terminal, report says (Seattle Times, April 2017)

10. Trans Mountain Pipeline

  • What: A 65 year old oil pipeline, and its massive expansion proposal
  • Where: From Alberta to Vancouver, BC
  • Status: #PermissionDenied (but not yet dead)

What’s next: TBD #StopKM The recent court victory highlighted failed First Nations consultation and unexamined killer whale impacts, but the government claims they’ll overcome. We disagree.

Learn more: Indigenous Activists Win “David vs. Goliath” Victory as Court Rejects $4.5B Trans Mountain Pipeline (Democracy Now, September 2018)

11. Phillips 66 Refinery expansion for tar sands processing

  • What: Plan to double oil tankers and expand to start processing tar sands
  • Where: Rodeo, CA in #SFBay
  • Status: Agencies performing an environmental analysis

How we’re winning: This fight is in progress. Winning is going to rely on Bay Area residents, indigenous leaders, and people from the tar sands and other heavy crude sources standing together to say #PermissionDenied. We’re going to rely on you, too!

Learn more: Air District OKs Expansion of Crude Oil Processing at Phillips 66 Refinery in Rodeo (KQED, August 2018)