Fuel tanks next to the Ferry Village neighborhood near the South Portland waterfront in 2015. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

The city of South Portland is “elated” about a key victory in its six-year legal battle with the Portland Pipeline Co. over a proposal to import tar sands oil from Canada.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court issued a ruling against the company according to court documents dated October 2020 and updated in April 2021, upholding the city’s contention that its Clear Skies Ordinance does not clash with state or federal regulations. The company, in contrast with its previous zealous litigation of the issue in federal court, announced on July 15 that it would not be pursuing the suit any further.

“We were surprised, but also elated,” said South Portland Mayor Misha Pride.

Portland Pipe Line President Chris Gillies declined to discuss the suit in detail, but confirmed in an email that the company was not pursuing its initial pipeline project, or the lawsuit.

“We voluntarily dismissed our appeal as we do not currently have any plans to reverse the flow of crude oil in the Portland-Montreal Pipe Line system,” Gillies wrote. “Under the previous ownership there had been some thought to reverse the direction of flow of crude oil of the Portland-Montreal Pipe Line system. However, since 2020 when Suncor Energy became the sole owner of Portland Pipe Line’s parent, the decision was made to continue to operate the pipeline as it operates today.”

The initial battle began in 2015, when the company sued the city over the 2014 ordinance, which set air quality standards that made the company’s proposed import project impossible. At the time, officials created the ordinance to halt the import of tar sands oil, which environmentalists argue contributes to climate change.

The company first took the city to federal court, lost, then filed an appeal, which led to a January 2020 order from the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston to address the issue on the state level first. When the state court issued its ruling earlier this year, the company could have returned to federal court to continue its appeal, but last week the company dropped the lawsuit.

The circuit court, Pride said, reached out to the U.S. Department of Justice to see if the city’s ordinance violated any federal laws or the constitution before making its ruling. The Biden administration, in return, filed an amicus brief in the case which, in essence, said the ordinance did not, Pride said, and that filing may have been a factor in the company’s dropping the suit.

“I think, to an extent, they saw the writing on the wall,” he said.

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