As business and political interests in Philadelphia push to make the city an “energy hub” for Marcellus Shale gas, opponents of the plan held the first in a series of community meetings Tuesday night.
The organizers’ goal is to build momentum against the energy hub by getting residents involved who live near the Philadelphia Energy Solutions oil refinery – one of the business interests leading the charge in favor of the plan.
About 50 people attended the first gathering at Grace Christian Fellowship Church in Southwest Philadelphia.
Neighborhood resident Teresa Hill warmed up the crowd.
“We’re asking them what is going on with this expansion plan and to stop it,” she said. “Who cares? We care … [L]et’s unite and fight. This is our community, and let’s take it back.”
Hill is a member of Action United, a grassroots organization that is part of the Green Justice Philly coalition that formed in October to combat the energy hub plan.
Action United members called for the city to conduct a health study in the areas around the Philadelphia Energy Solutions oil refinery, which puts out more than 70 percent of Philadelphia County’s toxic emissions, according to the federal government. They also asked the city to tally up how much the refinery received in tax breaks as part of the state’s Keystone Opportunity Zone program. Members also demanded the city hold community meetings about the risks of trains that haul crude oil to the refinery.
Tensions flared about an hour into the meeting when some staffers for local elected officials arrived and claimed they had not been accurately informed about the agenda of the event. Two aides for City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson said they had spoken to Philadelphia Energy Solutions and were told the refinery had “no plans” to expand.
Gerald Johns, chief of staff for state Rep. Jordan Harris, warned residents they might be misinformed about issues, such as the oil trains.
“PES purchases the oil. It does not belong to them until it gets to their place,” he said. “CSX delivers the oil and you know this, they say CSX on the sign. Don’t be misled.”
Later, raising his voice, he scolded the organizers for not inviting refinery representatives to attend the meeting.
“This is not how we get stuff done,” Johns said.
Philadelphia Mayor-elect Jim Kenney, city Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, and state Sen. Anthony Williams were also invited, but did not attend the meeting.
Meanwhile, PES CEO Phil Rinaldi is working on his own plan to win over opponents.
“The army of people that are supporting is important, but it’s minuscule,” he told business leaders at a conference earlier this month. “It’s like a platoon. We really need an army, but that army needs a playbook.”
Rinaldi expects his playbook will be rolled out sometime next month, just in time for the next community meeting against the energy hub.