There’s a corner of Philadelphia that’s under-developed. It’s at the south east tip of our city, along the Delaware River, called Southport. It’s managed by a state agency called the PRPA (Philadelphia Regional Port Authority).

In southwest Philadelphia, there’s an oil refinery owned and managed by Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES). For the past year or so, the CEO of PES, Phil Rinaldi, has been proposing expanding their operations into Southport, with the vision of Philadelphia becoming the Houston on the Delaware. For a full coverage of this plan, see our collection of local fossil fuel news.

Many (no, make that countless) Philadelphian’s are terrified with this vision.  Some groups have publicly expressed their positions; notably see published letters from Green Justice Philly, Philadelphia chapter of PA Interfaith Power & Light and Physicians for Social Responsibility of Greater Philadelphia.

The PRPA team has been reviewing proposals for Southport’s development and narrowed it down to 6 companies. Their RFP (Request for Proposals) and other public documents can be found here. In brief,

  1. CenterPoint Properties Trust wants to develop sites 1, 2 & 3 over four phases, mainly RoRo (rollon rolloff containers), warehousing and cargo port
  2. Liberty Consortium wants to develop site 1 over three phases, mainly for a container port
  3. Liberty Property Trust wants to develop sites 2 & 3, mainly for warehouse space
  4. Philadelphia Energy Solutions wants to develop sites 1 & 2 over 2 phases for an import / export facility for crude oil & refined oil products
  5. Southport Development Partners want to develop sites 1, 2 & 3 over four phases, mainly as a container port
  6. USD Group wants to develop sites 2 & 3 for bulk processing, auto storage and an incinerator.

I met representatives of these 6 companies, and their partner companies, at a recent stakeholder’s meeting organized by PRPA staff about a week and a half ago. The primary stakeholders, the citizens of Philadelphia, were to be briefed of the development at a later date. We promised the PRPA staff that we’d pack the hall at the public hearing, which was slated for last night.

Curious who would come, I used our regional transit system and our city’s bike share program; docked the bike and ambled over to the parking lot by 5, a full hour before the hearing started. And watched people arrive. In cars filled to capacity, with children in tow. Many walked over from the densely populated south Philadelphia neighborhood. Quite a few pedaled over.

I observed each group hesitantly pulling out their hand-written speeches and hand-drawn signs, gaining confidence at seeing the variety of people. Members of congregations came because their pastor or rabbi mentioned the event. Members of environmental groups came because they feel the pollution numbers and the necessity to act on climate; to demand no new investment in fossil fuel infrastructure. Residents living close to the current refinery came because they live the pollution numbers in the air their children gasp in. Physicians came too, seeing the pollution creating new patients, for sicknesses incurable without a systemic withdrawal from burning ever more fossil fuels. The unions came to complain that the energy related proposals wouldn’t create as many jobs as a container port.

As the media came and set up, people began walking up to them and offering brief interviews. After a brief warm-up rally we settled into the waiting hall.

After the promised briefing on the development plans for Southport, the public was invited to present questions and concerns.  For almost two hours, there was a steady line of people with a primary focus on the proposed fossil fuel expansion from Southwest Philadelphia into Southport. People with other business interests, notably Philabundance,  had no opportunity or space to bring up their questions.

We delivered as promised. Almost 200 people had packed the hall.

Where did they come from? From nearby Southwest Philadelphia, South Philadelphia, West Philadelphia, Mt Airy, Germantown, Fairmount, Northeast Philadelphia, East Falls, even Newtown and many of the suburbs. Several speakers came from right next to the Southport in question, and expressed disbelief that dangerous fossil fuel infrastructure could come to their neighborhood.

What did they have to say? Mentions of air quality and related illnesses, concerns about the oil trains and possible explosions in the city, the many gas pipelines headed our way, the need to act on climate and to use clean renewable energy for a transformed economy offering a just transition from the extractive fossil fuel based economy.

Despite the diversity of people and questions, there seemed to be a laser focus on PES  and their relationship to the PRPA board.

The basic message was:

  • No New Fossil Fuel Infrastructure.
  • No PES expansion into Southport.
  • We need to transition to a clean renewable energy future now.

We were heard by the PRPA staff, who will be reporting to the PRPA Board at the next board meeting on Tuesday March 15th.  I plan on witnessing this board meeting, details found here.

This post was originally published here.