City to issue recommendations for developers eyeing PES refinery

Smoke billows from the Philadelphia Energy Solutions Refining Complex in Philadelphia, Wednesday, June 26, 2019. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

Smoke billows from the Philadelphia Energy Solutions Refining Complex in Philadelphia, Wednesday, June 26, 2019. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

City officials will issue a final report in November detailing the findings of the Refinery Advisory Group, which held its final meeting Wednesday.

Brian Abernathy, Philadelphia’s managing director and co-chair of the city-convened group, said the report also will include recommendations for developers interested in the 1,300-acre Philadelphia Energy Solutions site, and describe incentives or infrastructure improvements that could be used there.

But while the report will explore strategies for shaping the site’s future, it won’t prescribe a favored outcome, Abernathy said.

“I don’t think we’re going to take a position in the report, or at any other point, of who is the right buyer. At least not until we understand how the bankruptcy proceeding goes,” he said.

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PES entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy in July, a month after a fire and explosion damaged some of the South Philadelphia complex, which includes two refineries. Three potential buyers have expressed interest, including Phil Rinaldi, former CEO of Philadelphia Energy Solutions. Any acquisition would be subject to the approval of U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington.

Abernathy said he has not met with any potential buyers.

In an interview following the public meeting, Abernathy stressed the city’s lack of control over the future of the privately owned site.

He said condemnation, the process used to take private property for public use, is not a viable step forward.

“I don’t think it’s a realistic path. We will look at it, we will explore it, and we’ll provide detail in the report that we’ll issue in the fall,” Abernathy said.

The city official’s comments came after environmental activists performed a die-in, simulating coughing and choking on polluted air while lying in the center of the South Philly school gymnasium where the meeting was held.

Pamela Grant (speaker, center) of Philly Thrive said that the organization wanted to perform a dramatic action, a “die in” to protest high rates of asthma, and COPD in South Philly. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

“We have spoken at every one of your five meetings with the message that city government can and must take charge now to ensure our constitutional right to a clean air and healthy environment,” said Pamela Grant, one of the Philly Thrive members who participated in the action.

“If nothing else, the city can seize the land through eminent domain,” the activist said.

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One theme sure to come up in the city’s forthcoming report is community relations. The need for better communications between the refinery, its neighbors and government was raised repeatedly throughout the city’s engagement process.

“We’ve heard some feedback about our response, around communication, around our monitoring systems, [and] we’ll take that into consideration,” Abernathy said.

The managing director said he’s content with the work done by the advisory group and by the effort put toward what he described as “one of the most pressing issues in the city right now.”

Brian Abernathy is managing director of the city of Philadelphia. He said the city has to work within the confines of the bankruptcy. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

“I hope folks feel like they were heard, because we have made a tremendous amount of effort to make sure … make sure we listen,” he said. “And that’s our job.”

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