Oil tank farms are obvious to anyone crossing the Fore River between Portland and South Portland. The communities adjacent to these tanks are alarmed by the revelation that Global Partners LP has exceeded its license limit for toxic air emissions. This situation is bringing harm to some of the most vulnerable in the South Portland community.

In her book “Erosion,” naturalist Terry Tempest Williams writes about our environment and how the present corporate policy of profit over people is endangering all life on our planet.

Williams tells the story of Sue Beatty, a lead biologist at Yosemite National Park, and Beatty’s encounter with the 2,000- to 3,000-year-old giant sequoias in Yosemite’s Mariposa Grove. She noticed how the paved roads and the parking were too close to the root systems of these ancient ones, that the compaction was causing the trees to suffer. She noticed how the construction of the drainage ditches was interrupting adequate water flow to the trees, that all of this was putting these ancient ones in grave danger.

When Beatty and her crew brought this to the attention of National Park Service leadership, it took the necessary steps to allow for the grove’s recovery.

Like Beatty, the awakened community of South Portland is calling on city and state leadership to take action on tank farm emissions. They are.

We, the public, depend on good laws and actions to keep us safe. Corporations that occupy a community’s land have an obligation to keep the communities in their midst safe, especially if they are as large as a petroleum company. It is a no-brainer that being “a good neighbor” – Global’s goal, according to its CEO – means using the best science available to monitor toxic emissions from their products and, at their own expense, study and eliminate the emissions in the interest of public safety.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency proposed a consent decree as penalty for Global’s exceeding the emissions limit spelled out in their license. Because of the inherent dangers of these emissions, to South Portland residents the penalty looked more like a slap on the wrist than anything that would help the community: a mere $40,000 fine and an agreed-upon amount of $150,000 to upgrade or replace woodstoves throughout Cumberland County, a pittance for a corporation that makes millions.

Many residents, city officials and organizations wrote asking for more meaningful and powerful actions to be taken. But the consent decree, approved by a federal judge, was unable legally to take any of these concerns into account. It failed the people of South Portland, especially those living near the tanks. Global should be required to file for an amended license under terms at least as stringent as those set out in the consent decree.

In its original complaint, the EPA noted that as far back as 2014, Global had the potential to emit more than 50 tons of emissions per year, which would require them to file for a Title V major emitter license, necessitating more stringent controls on behalf of public health. Given how emissions are currently calculated and reported, it is hard to know what exactly is being put into our air. A requirement for state-of-the art, 24/7 fence-line emissions monitoring is crucial.

In a democracy, the officials serving the citizens must keep th informed via public notification, public meetings and public hearings. Like the sequoias, humans must be attended to, and, as people participating in a democracy, given the opportunity for input. We are all in this together.

Terry Tempest Williams reported that when Sue Beatty and her crew woke up to what was happening to the ancient sequoias: “The status quo was no longer acceptable. The possible became the necessary.” If Global wants to be “a good neighbor,” it must not continue to put profits over the lives and health of people. The possible is now the necessary.

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