SEPTA gets to keep air permit, operate gas generator in Nicetown

Activists appealed to stop SEPTA’s Nicetown gas generator from operating, but L&I Review Board has given SEPTA the greenlight.

Lisa Hastings (left) and Lynn Pearl Robinson (right) are part of Neighbors Against the Gas Plant, fighting to keep SEPTA’s natural gas burning plant out of Nicetown. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Lisa Hastings (left) and Lynn Pearl Robinson (right) are part of Neighbors Against the Gas Plant, fighting to keep SEPTA’s natural gas burning plant out of Nicetown. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Philadelphia’s Licenses and Inspections Review Board announced their vote for SEPTA to keep its city-approved air permit for their new $27 million gas generator in Nicetown, despite heavy opposition from residents and local organizations who claim the facility will further exacerbate air pollution in the area. The decision ends an appeals process that has lasted nearly two years.

Members in the audience at 1515 Arch Street were awaiting the decision chanted “shame” as they exited the room after the announcement. Mitch Chanin, a member of 350 Philadelphia, the leading organization opposing the plant, voiced disappointment. 

“We are planning to continue working with members of the affected communities … to reduce and eliminate air pollution from that plant, and press for SEPTA to become a fossil-free transit agency powering our transit system with renewable energy instead,” Chanin said. 

Opponents of SEPTA’s natural gas plant in Nicetown walk out of an L&I hearing yelling “shame” at the board members.(Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

SEPTA proposed the plant in 2016 and has been facing opposition from residents and local organizations ever since. Still, in 2017, the city’s Air Management Services issued SEPTA an air permit, which allows some facilities that burn fuel to operate. Soon after, the opposition filed an appeal of the permit, which kicked off the series of hearings that concluded today. 

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Local activists argue emissions from the plant will cause harm to residents by worsening air pollution. Also, if sustainable energy sources become cheaper, SEPTA’s supposed energy savings may become a moot point. 

But SEPTA’s Director of Innovation Erik Johanson said SEPTA believes the new plant will be, “in the net, a positive for the community and the region.” Johanson said the facility will produce about 70% of the power for the regional rail service north of Center City. The remaining will continue to come from PECO. It’ll also power the entire Midvale Bus Depot, which services a quarter of the entire fleet. Johanson also said the facility will reduce carbon emissions by 41%. 

“We start from the premise that this is a fundamentally good project,” Johanson said. “We’re happy that L&I upheld the air permit for those reasons.” 

“And we understand through this process, the community outreach aspect of it, has been highlighted,” Johanson added. “And we’re going to continue to work on that to build those relationships with the neighborhoods around Midvale.”

Eric Marsh, a former longtime resident of Nicetown who is still active in the community, said he and others against the facility will keep up the effort to ensure community voices are heard. 

Eric Marsh, a former Nicetown resident, worries about his mother and other family members who still live in the neighborhood. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

“The fight continues, and it’s going to continue for as long as it has to continue, until this plant is shut down or until they do some serious efforts to mitigate the amount of particulate matter and pollution that comes out of this plant,” he said.

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