Sign-On Letter: End the Era of Refinery Pollution
Philly Thrive was told it would be years until the federal investigations of the refinery explosions on June 21st would be released. So we were startled when the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) called a press conference on October 16th to announce initial findings. It was immediately clear why the agency felt compelled to come forward with initial findings: over 5,000 pounds of hydrofluoric acid were released during the explosion, despite the City of Philadelphia assuring residents there were no harmful emissions. Philly Thrive members & South Philly residents went to the hospital that day while the City recited its typical "everything's fine" refrain. The City's hummed that tune for 150 years while countless lives- majority Black & Brown, low-income lives- have been lost from long-term exposure to refinery pollution, and we have momentum to demand a new song. One of decisive action.
Philly Thrive has deeply appreciated the support for our Right to Breathe Campaign from other organizations over the years, particularly those who recognize the racial & economic justice connections between our struggles. We need your support in the form of this letter to show elected officials that Philadelphians across the city are calling for a permanent end to polluting industry on this land, so we can advance our demands & organize political support. Signing on to this letter does not commit you or your organization to any action beyond the solidarity & support expressed here- though we certainly welcome any & all collaboration. If you have any questions or want to talk further, contact Philly Thrive at
. Thanks for your consideration!
Dear Philadelphia City Council,
The undersigned organizations, representing hundreds of thousands of residents across the city, write in support of decisive action to ensure the Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery site be fully transitioned away from polluting industry towards the healthy future use of 1,300 acres of land.
The U.S. Chemical Safety Board’s findings about the June 21, 2019 explosions must mark a turning point in Philadelphia’s 150-year history of hosting the largest oil refinery on the East Coast. Over five thousand pounds of hydrofluoric acid released - capable of dissolving human tissue and bone - is more than enough justification for a triage of actions to defend public health, safety, and welfare.
The reasons for transitioning the PES site away from a refinery have been mounting for years, including but not limited to:
- Public health impacts resulting from living near the city's largest stationary source of toxic air pollutants, including cancer, heart disease, respiratory conditions, cognitive problems, and more
- Safety risks from routine fires and explosions at the refinery and two oil train derailments since 2014
- Environmental racism, as articulated by the NAACP and as defined by federal law, given that a majority of residents within 1 mile of the refinery are people of color
- Climate change caused by the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions in Philadelphia
- Corporate negligence & lawbreaking in the form of quarterly violations of the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act
- Economic predictions that the refinery would have gone bankrupt by 2022, even without an explosion, and that the demand for refined petroleum will peak in 2020.
We call on City Council to put an end to a legacy of passivity from Philadelphia government on this issue by taking the following actions:
1. Pass “Right to Breathe” legislation, starting with a ban on large scale industrial use of hydrofluoric acid. City Council has the power to protect Philadelphia’s air and water from toxic emissions. City Council should strengthen protections by adding a Cumulative Impact Analysis to the permitting process, tightening the City’s Air Code, and passing a moratorium on new fossil fuel proposals.
2. Correct the public involvement process in refinery clean-up and advocate for highest standard of clean-up. Former refinery owner Sunoco held only one public meeting in the over ten years they have been designing clean up plans. Now, despite facing increased scrutiny, Sunoco is attempting to expedite approval of 8 areas of clean-up and 1,000+ pages of documents with minimal public meetings and one comment period. City Council should call on City Solicitor Patrick O’Neill to achieve a fair Public Involvement Process. This includes appropriate scientific support for residents to understand clean-up documents, separate public meetings and comment periods for each area of interest, and for Sunoco to remediate to the highest standard.
3. Prepare to amend city planning documents and zoning restrictions to enable healthy future land uses determined by residents. Residents of South & Southwest Philadelphia have been discussing priorities for future land use for years. Starting in October 2019 diverse stakeholders are coming together in an initiative to build sustainable proposals for future land use. City Council should plan to attend community visioning sessions in January and February, and prepare to take action based on the concepts in the final report in spring 2020.
Philadelphia residents are continuing to step up to defend our health and future, most recently by pledging to use civil resistance if the refinery is re-opened. We need Philadelphia City Council to make our lives, our lungs, and future generations a priority now, so residents aren’t forced to put our bodies on the line.
As Philly Thrive member Shawmar Pitts says, "It is a known fact that we have to change the ways we get and use our energy. There has to be a new industrial revolution. Our situation in South Philly with the closing of the PES refinery is our opportunity to be trailblazers for saving the planet one community at a time." There is enormous potential to advance environmental, racial, and economic justice in this moment. Let’s get to work.
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