A three-year-old federal lawsuit challenging South Portland’s ban on oil exports is scheduled to go to trial in June.

The City Council transferred more than $546,000 to the Clear Skies Ordinance defense fund Tuesday in anticipation of the trial, which is scheduled for June 18-22 before Judge John A. Woodcock Jr. in U.S. District Court in Portland.

The city has already spent $1.4 million to defend the ordinance against the lawsuit filed by Portland Pipe Line Corp., and has received $168,000 in donations to help defend itself.

In December, Woodcock largely rejected arguments from Portland Pipe Line challenging the legality of South Portland’s Clear Skies Ordinance, which bans crude oil exports.

South Portland adopted the ordinance in 2014. It amended the city’s zoning, effectively banning the bulk loading of crude oil onto ships through terminals on the South Portland waterfront.

The ordinance was intended to prevent the use of the company’s South Portland-to-Montreal pipeline to carry crude oil from tar sands in western Canada to the South Portland waterfront. The pipeline has historically been used to import crude oil to Canada, but the development of crude reserves and changing market conditions raised the possibility the pipeline’s flow direction could be reversed.

Environmental groups and local residents said any move to export tar sands crude through the pipeline would threaten local air quality and accelerate global climate change.

Portland Pipe Line disputed those arguments and challenged the ordinance on grounds that it was unconstitutional because it interferes with interstate trade, discriminates against Canadian interests, devalues the pipeline and infringes on areas of regulation best left to the federal government.

Portland Pipe Line sued in February 2015 to overturn the city ordinance.

The city sought summary judgment in 2017, contending there were no disputed facts that necessitated a trial, and the court could examine the facts and make a decision based on applicable law. Woodcock in December granted summary judgment in the city’s favor on most of the counts in the complaint, but took no stance on the critical question of the ordinance’s impact on interstate and foreign commerce.

Instead, he wrote that a future “fact finder” – potentially the court – would have to resolve those federal commerce issues given that “the parties disagree both mildly and vigorously about facts critical to the resolution of the Commerce Clause issue.”

“The city claims the ultimate effect of the ordinance is not to block pipeline reversal because crude can be exported by other means, including by rail,” Woodcock said. “(The company) maintains the practical and intended effect is to block its plan for pipeline reversal and therefore block the flow of Canadian oil to other markets. Both parties present evidence … to support their factual claims. There are genuine disputes of material fact as to primary effect and primary purpose of the ordinance. The Council’s primary purpose and intent in enacting the ordinance, as well as its primary practical effect, will have to be resolved by a fact finder.”

The money approved May 1 is the fourth appropriation to the Clear Skies Ordinance Legal Defense Fund and will include $500,000 from unassigned fund balance and $46,505 from additional donations received to date.

Juliette Laaka can be contacted at 781.3661 ext. 106. or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: JulietteLaaka.

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