Project Report:
Fossil Fuel Risk Bonds, No Tar Sands by Rail
- Investigates the causes of economic imbalances.
- Investigates the effect of the global financial system and/or the monetary system in fostering a sustainable economy.
- Explores and develops market-based solutions.


CSE's Fossil Fuel Risk Bond program addresses the hidden subsidies we all pay in the form of externalized costs of fossil fuel extraction, transport, storage and combustion. In line with the internationally recognized “polluter pays" principal, our work on fossil fuel risk bonds is an effort to get these costs borne by the polluter. In addition, we unexpectedly began working on fighting tar sands by rail coming from Canada to two ports: Portland, OR and Port Westward, OR.

Aztec dancers protest tar sands by rail at Zenith Terminal, Portland, OR on Earth Day 2019
Aztec dancers protest tar sands by rail at Zenith Terminal, Portland, OR on Earth Day 2019


The scope of this program is national and even international, with our pilot project in Portland, OR.

Our high-level goals, in Portland, and elsewhere are:
1)Stop New Fossil Fuel Infrastructure;
2) Improve Seismic Safety and Disaster Resilience of Existing Fossil Fuel Infrastructure;
3) Plan for a Cleanup and Closedown of Existing Fossil Fuel Infrastructure by 2050.

Given the high likelihood of a 9.0 earthquake rocking the Portland area in the next 50 years, Portland must urgently “harden” –or make safer - existing fossil fuel infrastructure. The fossil fuel industry has been dragging its feet in making the necessary upgrades locally, with little consequence. A fossil fuel risk bond program could change the dynamic by shifting the economic burden of not taking action. If the costs of risky fossil fuel infrastructure were borne by the industry, and not taxpayers, the industry would have a strong financial incentive to minimize those risks.

The official launch of a fossil fuel risk bond program in Portland, OR began on May 30, 2019, when the Multnomah County Commissioners approved the first half of a budget request for $50,000 (out of a total of $100,000) to fund a scoping study, conducted by Portland State University researchers. (See this video clip at 1 hour, 38 minutes, 36 seconds, on May 23, where Commissioner Dr. Sharon Meieran introduces the budget amendment which was approved on May 30 for this work:

Over the course of the past year, we have developed a strong coalition of grassroots partners who support this campaign including: 350PDX, Portland Audubon, Columbia Riverkeeper, and Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility. Working with them, we have met with elected officials, advising them on the concept of fossil fuel risk bond programs as a tool to internalize the economic costs and risks of existing fossil fuel infrastructure and generate the revenues needed to both dismantle and/or make safer existing fossil fuel infrastructure and dramatically scale up investments in restoration of contaminated sites, green architecture, green infrastructure, and renewable energy technologies.

In addition, we were able to raise $15,000 from Helianthos Fund for our sister 501-C-4 nonprofit, Sustainable Energy & Economy Network ( Using that funding, we were able to hire a lobbyist to usher the fossil fuel risk bonds process through the County and City channels in Portland and across the finish line. (For more, see

As a result of our meetings, we expect The Portland Bureau of Emergency Management and Portland City Council to approve the additional $50,000 that will effectively launch Phase 1 of the fossil fuel risk bond scoping study.

We have begun mapping out the risk analysis study in partnership with Portland State University (PSU). Former Oregon Secretary of State Phil Keisling is heading up the team at PSU on this study, which we expect to be driven by an interdepartmental team along with outside consultants. John Talberth will ensure that the study proceeds with input from CSE.

In addition, together with our partners, we have conducted a series of public forums on the hazards of existing fossil fuel infrastructure in Portland and, in that public context, we have heard strong support expressed by the local community for our concept of fossil fuel risk bonds. Due to the unexpected addition of tar sands by rail coming through our community, we have folded in information on the risks associated with this particularly toxic fossil fuel. More here:

With a small grant of $4000, we hired a grassroots organizing intern in order to build public support and pass an ordinance to create a fossil fuel risk bonding program and fossil fuel/climate trust fund. Given the additional threat of tar sands by rail, we are now raising additional funds to both continue grassroots organizing in support of our fossil fuel risk bonds program and in opposition to tar sands by rail--hiring our intern on full-time for the next year. As of June 5, 2019, we have raised over $12,000 in rapid response funding for the tar sands work.


The fossil fuel industry is exacting a growing cost on the lives of all people, and the planet overall. The costs of climate change alone is as Lord Richard Stern noted in his "Stern Review of Climate Change" in 2006, the "greatest and widest-ranging market failure ever seen, presenting a unique challenge for economics." This market failure means that the market for oil, gas and coal is distorted in favor of these polluting energy resources over carbon-free and low carbon energy solutions. One way of preventing this market distortion from continuing is to put a price on carbon at the national level. Our project is exploring an alternative approach - fossil fuel risk bond programs. These programs would empower state and local governments to enact a range of financial assurance mechanisms to ensure that fossil fuel corporations, and not taxpayers, bear the full costs catastrophic accidents, leaks, spills, and climate change.

In working on tar sands action related to Zenith and Global Partners, we are engaging in all available potential intervention points at the state and local government level, including air and water permitting processes, land use permitting processes, and local policy making. We are also developing expertise in risk analysis related to seismic impacts to fossil fuel infrastructure and how local governments can shift costs to the fossil fuel industry. (The Global Partners terminal is also situated on landfill that, should there be a major quake, would liquify much as the area holding the fossil fuel infrastructure would do in Portland—and we are overdue for a major quake of 8.0 or more.) Our work on fossil fuel risk bonds may be transferable to Columbia County, where Global Partners is planning to build expand an existing terminal to handle tar sands.

In this tar sands by rail work, we have a two-pronged short-term goal. One, to stop the Zenith tar sands terminal in Portland and, two, to stop the expansion of the Global Partners terminal in Port Westward, OR and do all we can to restrict tar sands shipments through Oregon.

Our long-term goal in all of this work is to get Oregon leaders to recognize and declare a Climate Emergency and ensure that there is a moratorium placed on all new fossil fuel infrastructure in the state of Oregon and a plan for a just transition for existing fossil fuel infrastructure to safeguard our city and our state from both a catastrophic earthquake and the worst effects of climate change. Fossil fuel risk bonds will be key to the just transition away from fossil fuels.


We have begun to implement a fossil fuel risk bond program in Portland, Oregon as a proof of concept demonstration at the county level, in Multnomah County. At the moment, we are focused on Portland, OR, in the aftermath of our successful campaign in support of an ordinance that passed last year calling for an end to all new fossil fuel infrastructure. We are working to ensure that concern about existing fossil fuel infrastructure situated in an earthquake zone translates into support for our fossil fuel risk bond in the greater Portland metropolitan area. Once we have this demonstration project in place and proven in Portland, we are working to ensure this bonding mechanism is taken up by every local community that chooses to enact it. Among the most promising: Houston, Texas and the San Francisco Bay Area, where we have already developed strong partnerships with local groups and/or elected officials who are interested in developing similar bonding mechanisms.

Information Dissemination

Daphne Wysham is the project director and is a seasoned media professional. She has hosted her own radio show (Earthbeat) for 8 years, edited Greenpeace Magazine for 4 years, and regularly appears on local and national radio and TV. Her op-eds are regularly published in national newspapers. John Talberth is an expert economist who is well-equipped to speak about the technical aspects of this work to academics, elected officials, and grassroots groups. Nick Caleb is a former associate professor, and is an excellent public speaker. Elijah Cetas will be working with us at the grassroots level in The Portland and Port Westward communities, speaking out on fossil fuel risk bonds and how best to ensure tar sands proposals are resisted. In addition, we are disseminating our research on social media, and via our CSE website, and our 501-c-4 sister network,

Project Link

Amount Approved
$30,000.00 on 8/1/2018 (Check sent: 8/27/2018)

Aztec dancers protest tar sands by rail at Zenith Terminal, Portland, OR on Earth Day 2019

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Port Townsend, WA 98368

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Dr. John Talberth
President and Senior Economist, Center for Sustainable Economy

Posted 3/23/2018 6:35 PM
Updated   6/26/2019 5:04 PM

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