Another fossil fuel project being voted on. Extending our dependence on fossil fuels for another 25 years. The public testified at a hearing on Wednesday, Feb 27, 2019 on bill number 181063. The hearing was scheduled by Philadelphia City Council’s Committee on Transportation and Public Utilities.
The Committee chair is Council member Kenyatta Johnson, and the co-chair is Council member Mark Squilla. However, the entire hearing was orchestrated by Philadelphia Gas Commission chair, Council member Derek Green. This 7 member committee voted to proceed with the project, with support from Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration, despite 18 ward leaders and committee persons opposing the project; despite 4 state reps opposing the project and despite 24 groups opposing the project; and despite the voices below.
You can relive the hearing via this recording. Who spoke?
The first panel consisted of the people wanting the public private partnership, all in support of this project.
- Craig White, President & CEO, PGW
- Melanie McCottry, Director of Public Affairs, PGW
- Matthew Taylor, Liberty Energy Trust
The second panel consisted of City employees, all in support of this project.
- Christopher Pulasky, Director of Policy & Strategic Initiatives, Office of Transportation & Infrastructure Systems (OTIS)
- Domonique Casimir, Deputy Commissioner for Real Estate, Department of Public Property
- Gemela McClendon, Executive Director, Philadelphia Gas Commission
- Emily Schapira, Executive Director, Philadelphia Energy Authority
The third panel, including two labor leaders, was also in support of this project.
- Sharmain Matlock-Turner, President & CEO, Urban Affairs Coalition
- Pat Eiding, President, [Philadelphia] AFL-CIO
- Michael McDonough, Vice President, Gas Workers Union, Local 686
- Benjamin Parvey, CEO, Blue Sky Power
The fourth panel consisted of local experts questioning this fast-tracked project.
- Rob Ballenger, Energy Unit Co-Director, Community Legal Services of Philadelphia
- Christina Simeone, Director of Policy & External Affairs, Kleinman Center for Energy Policy
- Flora Cardoni, Climate Defender Campaign Director, PennEnvironment
Since the entire hearing began 2 and a half hours later than scheduled, and proponents of the bill got all the time they wanted, there was very little time for public comment. We managed to get some select voices added to the record.
The fifth panel consisted of:
- Lisa Hastings, Philadelphia resident, at 1:33 in video
- Nelson Pavlosky, resident of Philadelphia District 2 where the project would be sited, at 1:36 in video
- Lynn Robinson, Neighbors Against the Gas Plants, at 1:40 in video
The sixth panel consisted of:
- Matt Walker, Clean Air Council, at 1:44 in video
- Meenal Raval, 350 Philadelphia, at 1:48 in video
- Alex Lola, Penn Environment, resident of District 2 where the project would be sited, at 1:53 in video
The seventh panel consisted of:
- Mitch Chanin, 350 Philadelphia, at 1:58 in video
- Audra Wolfe, POWER, at 2:04 in video
- Mark Clincy, Philly Thrive, at 2:08 in video
- Sylvia Bennett , Philly Thrive, at 2:14 in video
- Carol White, Philly Thrive, at 2:15 in video
The afternoon ended with:
- Claudia Crane, Philadelphia resident, at 2:16 in video
- Meenal Raval, Philadelphia resident, again, at 2:21 in video
And those who didn’t get a chance…
The meeting was scheduled for 10am, but since another bill was discussed before this one, it was over 2 hours before this hearing began. Many people therefore didn’t get a a chance to speak. Some of them are listed below.
Below is testimony shared, alphabetical by first name:
Committee on Transportation and Public Utilities, make yourselves look good: vote against building the LNG project!
It makes no economic sense to vote for a 25 year fossil fuel contract when fossil fuels are on their way out. Prices for renewables are going down and fossil fuel prices will rise. The Feb. 24th Wall Street Journal reports that, “The once powerful partnership between Wall Street and the fracking companies is fraying as the industry struggles to attract investors after nearly a decade of losing money.”
Philadelphia and other cities are committed to getting off fossils by 2050. There is unprecedented public outcry for using renewables.
Hello, my name is Carol White. I am a resident of Wilson Park and member of Philly Thrive. I am a mother and grandmother to 14 grandkids, most of whom have asthma. I have to keep inhalers all over my house, in every room. My mother passed away last year from cancer caused by the [Philadelphia Energy Solutions] refinery. And she’s not the only one.Why is the PES refinery allowed to go on operating and spewing cancer-causing toxins? Why do I and my friends and family live so close to it, with no defense or protection from our elected officials? And why on top of this dirty refinery are you considering adding more industry to an area where so many live, work, and go to school? We, the residents of South Philly, deserve to have a say in this matter. We have not been adequately consulted on this issue. You need to hold more community meetings about this, and listen to what we have to say. It’s our city too and we don’t want more fossil fuel infrastructure. Thank you for your time.
Public comment by Coryn Wolk, researcher and writer for Physicians for Social Responsibility Philadelphia/PA and EDGE Philly and resident of West/Southwest Philadelphia.
While my concerns about this project are broad, I am focusing my comments on the environmental aspects of this proposal.
I thoroughly read Langan’s Environmental Review for this project and found many sections that lacked adequate details or dismissed potential concerns without adequate justification.
For context, the PGW Passyunk Plant has had gas-related operations and infrastructure since at least the 1850s. The first large gas holder was built on the site in the early 1850s, the precursor to the cage there now.
Phillygeohistory.org’s historical map overlays show the progression of different infrastructure on-site over the years. For much of its history, gas was produced by coal gasification, an intensely dirty process. Infrastructure on-site included coal storage, coal coke sheds, “purifying houses,” and railroad tracks. The site has also been surrounded by petroleum and chemical infrastructure since that time. Contamination from these operations is a contemporary concern—EPA Region III and Pennsylvania DEP are still addressing vapor intrusion and contaminated groundwater migration in the residential neighborhood directly adjacent to the PGW site.
For the rest of my comments, I will go by section.
The centerpiece of this project is the LNG liquefaction infrastructure. However, this infrastructure is only mentioned on page 2 of the Environmental Review, which lists “a natural gas liquefaction system (including a gas meter/regulating system, a gas pre-treatment system and a Motor Control Center (MCC)/Distributed Control Building);” a “new 10 MMSCFD nitrogen expansion liquefier (120,000 gallons LNG/day production),” which includes a 5,968-kw compressor, fin fans, a heater, and auxiliary equipment; and a new truck loading system. On Page 6, under “Proposed Facility Changes,” the only stationary source changes listed are the new heater mentioned above and increased use of existing boilers for LNG vaporization. On page 7, Langan doubles down in their erasure of the liquefaction equipment, stating “The natural gas-fired heater is the only new stationary source of emissions that is proposed” and claiming that because they are electrically-driven, the rest of the 10 MMSCFD liquefier’s equipment will emit zero air pollutants. On fugitive emissions alone, this seems unlikely, but there is no data here to weigh.
On page 4, Langan correctly notes that the threshold for a federal Title V air permit license is 25 tons of VOCs or NOx per year in Philadelphia because of its nonattainment status for ground-level ozone. However, after page 4, Langan drops all references to VOCs and only includes NOx in its analysis and charts. VOC emissions are a primary pollutant of concern in natural gas operations. Without any mention of them, it’s impossible to tell whether Langan is correct in stating that the Plant will continue to operate below Title V thresholds.
In contrast, Langan goes to great lengths to dismiss the emissions it does acknowledge. On page 9, Langan says that the liquefier could “displace” a large quantity of diesel-fuel equivalent, or 6 tons of NOx from the refineries that produce diesel fuel, or 46,000 diesel pickup trucks or SUVs that produce even more NOx. It is unclear what NOx emissions from SUVs have to do with an LNG liquefier.
Langan also states on page 9 that the project has applied for a PRACP grant to “finance the installation of renewable energy electricity generation for the new liquefaction plant, which would further reduce plant emissions.” But the emissions from electricity generation are not factored into its earlier analysis—how can the project take credit for anticipating reducing emissions that it denies exist?
Water, Wastewater, and Stormwater
- An onsite treatment system is mentioned on page 9. What is the capacity of that system, and are there any risks of exceeding its capacity during construction or from the increase in impervious area?
- The Passyunk Plant has an internal sanitary system that connects to the Passyunk Ave sewer line and an “independent stormwater sewer system” that drains towards an outfall on the Schuylkill River. Does stormwater and groundwater pass through the treatment system before entering either of these, or only one?
- Langan asserts that new stormwater management practices will result in less runoff entering the city sewer system despite the increase in impervious area. What about the independent stormwater system?
Hazardous and Residual Waste
Again, Langan skirts details or analysis of the most obvious concerns: the existing contamination of the site’s soil and groundwater is relegated to one paragraph on page 14. The two sentences: “During the construction process, PGW may encounter hazardous soil and wastewater due to the site’s historic use as a manufactured gas plant. Per PGW’s operational procedures, chemical sampling and analysis will be performed and a soil management plan will be developed for construction activities and residual or hazardous waste disposal, as needed.” Furthermore, on page 16, Langan actually uses the site’s industrial history to assert that the site has “no natural resources within the property boundary.”
The tight lines Langan draws around its analysis do not reflect physical or consequential reality. This project’s construction involves disturbing heavily contaminated soil and groundwater on a site adjacent to the Schuylkill River and residential neighborhoods already heavily overburdened with air pollution. Once operational, this project involves a significant increase in natural gas infrastructure and transportation by pipeline and truck, with potential additional increases in the future. The air pollution and risks from natural gas operations are well-documented elsewhere, but Langan barely details why they believe that pollution will not occur here.
In the almost 120 years since gas works began on the site, Philadelphia has begun to realize the impacts of air pollution and the world has been given a critical deadline to address our dependence on fuels such as natural gas. Yet PGW and the Philadelphia Gas Commission seem intent to remain in the 1800s, holding a confusing, rushed approval process that by design or indifference excludes public involvement, and stirring up almost 120 years of contaminated soil to build more archaic, climate-destructive infrastructure.
Climate change will have a major impact on flooding at this site, which is in the floodplain. It will also reduce demand for natural gas in the winter and increase the health impacts from pollution on already overburdened neighborhoods near the LNG facility. Proposed policies to fight climate change will also have unpredictable and potentially dramatic impacts on the financial success of this project.
- A summary of climate change impacts on Philadelphia appear in this 2015 article, which itself links to citations. I’ve also linked them below.
- Existing 650% increase in nuisance flooding in Philadelphia: https://www.noaa.gov/media-release/noaa-nuisance-flooding-increasing-problem-as-coastal-sea-levels-rise (That number is from 2013 data–I would not be surprised if it has further increased.)
- Increase in annual tidal flooding events by 2030, from 19 to 200: https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/attach/2014/10/encroaching-tides-full-report.pdf
- Vulnerability of major U.S. cities’ power grids to climate change: https://hub.jhu.edu/magazine/2015/spring/power-outages-intensify-east-coast/
- Current and projected warming in Philadelphia from the latest federal climate report: http://www2.philly.com/philly/health/science/federal-climate-report-details-troubling-findings-for-pa-nj-20181126.html
- Climate change will make summer smog worse in cities: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/02/190218153218.htm
- Philadelphia’s climate could be like Memphis by 2080: https://www.philly.com/science/climate/philadelphia-climate-change-memphis-environment-atlantic-city-global-warming-20190219.html
My name is Mark Clincy and I’m a member of Philly Thrive. We are an organization that has been organizing in South Philadelphia for 3 years and we are fighting for our Right to Breathe clean air. This means we want the Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES) oil refinery to be held accountable for the pollution they cause. I live in Wilson Park, right on the fenceline of the PES refinery and very close to the proposed liquified natural gas (LNG) site as well. Living in this neighborhood, I’ve seen the negative effects of fossil fuel pollution, and I am here to speak for those who suffer from asthma, cancer, and other respiratory ailments.
When Philly Thrive conducted a survey in south Philadelphia in 2017, we found that 33.7% of residents living near the refinery have asthma, which is over 3 times the national average of 7.7%. One fossil fuel company in this neighborhood is more than enough. We don’t want any more!
Councilman Johnson, as my councilperson you are responsible for defending my rights and doing what is best for the neighborhood. I ask that you stop this project, at least until the city has conducted its own impacts assessment (rather than the one that the company paid to have done). Thank you.
Hello, my name is Meenal Raval, a resident of Mt Airy, Philadelphia.
On October 16th, I spoke at a [Philadelphia] Gas Commission meeting stating simply that… the recent IPCC report asks us to reduce our emissions as soon as possible. PGW’s product, whether you call it natural gas or fracked gas or methane) emits about 25% of our City’s emissions. How do we get these emissions to zero? And how to do this without laying off anyone? And still continue to heat our homes? We need a different business model for PGW.
Since then, we met with Council member Derek Green, chair of the Gas Commission. And believed that he too wanted a different business model for PGW, one that didn’t involve selling more & more gas. Our understanding was that we’d have a public hearing about the future of PGW before we fast-tracked another fossil-fuel project.
Yet here we are.
Seeing PGW’s marketing budget spent on ads promoting this project; we wonder — wouldn’t these be better spent educating us about energy efficiency measures such as setback thermostats, insulation, and electrification?
Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Gas Commission blatantly ignored vehement public opposition when they voted to OK this project in December.
Why aren’t we working this hard to fast-track new clean energy projects?
We take pride that PGW is the nation’s largest municipally owned utility. Yet, there appears no way that citizens can participate in steering this utility that we own.
Even when signing up to testify for this hearing, the chair of the committee defered all coordination to the champion of this project. People signing up to speak of their opposition to this project are being advised, by the project’s champion, that the speakers representing fossil fuel interests have no time limit, while there are too many in opposition to fit into the schedule. Perhaps a conflict of interest here?
If our goal is public health and a livable planet, we’re headed in the wrong direction by further developing a reliance on gas. Our Mayor and Council have so far only offered lip service. I suggest you all read Charles Ellison’s article: Reality Check – Voting Green in The Philadelphia Citizen, where he asks: Why aren’t our elected officials talking more about climate change and pollution? This election, voters will demand it.
We’re demanding it today. And ask that Council passes on gas.
Thanks for the opportunity to testify today on bill #181063. My name is Mitch Chanin, and I serve on the steering committee of 350 Philadelphia.We who are challenging the LNG project have several reasons for believing that it would be a step in the wrong direction. I want to focus on one issue that may not receive as much attention today. I also want to make a couple of requests.Before I do that, I want to say how frustrating it is to be at odds today with unions and labor leaders who support the project, especially since I come from a union family. I hope we can all work together to create a plan for a Green New Deal that moves us quickly from fossil fuels to renewable energy; ensures that everyone can afford to heat their home; and creates living wage, unionized jobs. Councilman Green and others have argued that PGW needs revenue from [this] LNG project in order to limit future rate increases, thereby protecting Philadelphians who are struggling to pay their utility bills. But counting on revenue from this project amounts to betting against effective policies to protect a livable climate. Proponents seem to be assuming that there will be strong demand for liquified natural gas over a period of 25 years. If we’re serious about responding to climate change, however, demand for gas will have to decline rapidly.In order to limit the risk of catastrophic climate change, we need to all but eliminate the use of fossil fuels—including natural gas—as quickly as possible. Noted UK climate researcher Kevin Anderson has concluded that countries like the US will need to nearly end the use of gas no later than 2035 if we want to have even a 2/3 chance of holding global warming to the 2 degree limit our country has committed to. If we’re serious about climate protection, the proposed LNG project is not likely to be viable, since strong climate policies will cause customers to disappear.
We’re already seeing policies and programs that call Liberty [Energy Trusts]’s plan into question. Liberty [Energy Trust] has said that they can sell LNG to utilities in New England at a high price. Those utilities are willing to pay a premium during times of peak demand, like severe cold snaps, when it’s difficult or impossible to obtain gas from other sources.
But Massachusetts has begun implementing policies that are designed to reduce demand for gas during those times. The state has just implemented a “Clean Peak” standard, which will provide incentives for replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy during peak times. It has also created a big new program to finance energy efficiency projects and other demand reduction projects. Other states are implementing policies to reduce demand for gas as well. This is just the beginning. If there is a serious attempt to avoid a climate catastrophe, we’ll need much more ambitious policies very soon.
The success of those initiatives threaten to eliminate customers for the LNG that this facility would produce.
Energy insecurity is serious problem in Philadelphia. Large numbers of Philadelphians struggle to pay their utility bills. But this project is a false solution.
What do we need instead? We need a real plan to ensure that all Philadelphians have safe, comfortable, healthy homes, and that everyone can afford their energy costs. And we need a plan to use renewable energy to heat our buildings, rather than gas.
Across the country, there is a growing call for a Green New Deal, which would involve a massive investment by the federal government in renewable energy projects, retrofitting buildings so that they can be heated with renewable energy, and more. I am asking members of City Council to add their voices to that call, to express support for a Green New Deal to our Congressional delegation. (Congressman Boyle has already signed on.) And we need to begin planning here in Philly for the local implementation of a Green New Deal.
We also need to identify how the City can use resources that are currently available to accelerate the repair and weatherization of low-income residents’ homes, and to provide utility bill assistance to people are not eligible for existing programs but who need help. I’d also suggest revisiting PGW’s plan to replace gas mains. If we need to transition off of gas within a decade or two, it may not make sense to install brand new pipelines that are designed to last for many decades. Instead, we could repair problems that are imminently dangerous at lower cost, while carefully monitoring the network.
It’s incredibly frustrating that City Council is holding a hearing about plans to build a new fossil fuel project at a time when we need talk about moving off a fossil fuels. I ask you to reject this project and to hold hearings about real solutions to the problems that we face.
Tammy Murphy, M.A., LL.M., Medical Advocacy Director, Physicians for Social Responsibility – Pennsylvania, 1501 Cherry Street, Philadelphia, PA 19102, firstname.lastname@example.org
According to Horn & Wilson, liquefied natural gas vessels and facilities are “costly and present the risk of potentially large accidents.”
This very questionable proposed public-private project has not proven that it is safe for our community or wise in terms of the city’s limited finances. Cities have been burned by so-called public-private-partnerships and the magic revenue from the fossil fuel industry promises are likely to burn this city in more ways than one. Election campaigns are too often used to lure policy makers into these seemingly lucrative deals but long term results are costly and dangerous.
Major safety concerns have not been satisfactorily resolved regarding the flammability of vapor clouds; accidents including leaks, spills, explosions, and risk of sabotage; and the danger posed to the dense population along the tanker routes and terminal site.
Risks to the immediate population are massive. Accidents are deadly to workers, residents, and the community at large. Houston’s recent tragedies should be at the forefront of your minds while deciding on the fate of our city. The frequency of devastating storms such as Sandy, Florence, and Harvey threaten lives and cost immense amounts of money in recovery. This threat of devastation is multiplied many times over with the presence of dangerous fossil fuel infrastructure that will last for decades as such severe storms are predicted to increase in both strength and frequency.
This proposed project is a central part of the industry that causes the increase in dangerous storms and is a major risk to the community as the strength and frequency of such storms come to fruition.
The location in the densely populated area of the proposed site is utterly irresponsible. It should not even be considered. Putting the community along the tanker route and the terminal at risk of potential leaks, spills, explosions, and potential risk of sabotage is deadly.
It is time for PGW and the City of Philadelphia to lead the transition of our economic and energy projects to transition rapidly to renewable sources.
 A. J. Van Horn and R.Wilson, The Potential Risks of Liquefied Natural Gas, Energy, Vol. 2. pp. 375-389. Pergamon, 1977, Energy and Environmental Policy Center, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.