Energy Hub? No Thanks.

Hub day on Citified brought out the opponents.

No energy hub here please, (some) readers say. Image from Shutterstock.

No energy hub here please, (some) readers say. Image from Shutterstock.

Yesterday was energy hub day on Citified. We took a stab at answering the question: “So what the hell is an energy hub anyway?” We sat down with environmentalists who deeply oppose the hub. And we had a Q&A with Phil Rinaldi, the leading hub visionary and CEO of Philadelphia Energy Solutions.

We also invited Citified readers to weigh-in over social media and email with their own views on the prospect that Philadelphia could become a petrochemical capital, and maybe, just maybe, goose the overall manufacturing sector. The boosters were silent. Environmentalists, neighbors of the South Philly refinery, and health advocates, however, were not.

I’d have liked a more balanced discussion. But this is a good indicator of the opposition that hub advocates–particularly in the political world–can expect to encounter sooner rather than later. It’s relatively easy to keep political actors (and the media) focused on jobs, on economic development, on dynamism when the conversations are abstract. As these projects mature to the point where pipeline routing and real-world construction are taking place, opposition blooms.

Joseph Russell:

In general, I do not look forward to Philadelphia becoming a petrochemical powerhouse. I do not envy the environment that Houston has built around that industry. We in greater Philadelphia have already had a legacy of environment-spoiling industries that have left large sections of Philadelphia, Camden, and Chester, among others, in extremely poor health, both in terms of its ailing people and its contaminated ground. Anything that threatens to bring back the bad old days of contaminating people and places needs to be seriously questioned. As we saw all too well in the 20th century, the momentary economic gains of industry can pass very quickly, leaving behind decades of work to fix its mistakes (work that honestly mostly does not get done; ask the residents of Camden’s Waterfront South neighborhood).

That said, if this industry isn’t going to be a big polluter, then I’d be more likely to be for it, given that it satisfies a very specific condition. The only way it’s worth becoming a larger part of the extremely dirty, human-unfriendly energy industry is if it results in the massive employment of the poor in Philadelphia and Camden. There is just no way our environment should play host to such an ugly, dystopian landscape if there’s not at least going to be a massive gain in wealth by those who have gotten left behind by the service economy of the 21st century. If the jobs are only going to benefit a few already well off people, it’s not worth it. If these jobs can’t help lift the poor out of poverty, then it’s not worth it. There has to be some real, tangible benefit to more than just energy company CEOs and stockholders, or else we’re just letting the energy industry dictate our future with little to no compensation.

Paige Wolf:

Philadelphia already has some of the worst air in the nation. The biggest single reason the region’s air quality is so bad is the South Philadelphia Refinery, which currently generates more than 73 percent of the toxic air emissions in Philadelphia. Perhaps that is why my five year old has severe asthma – and almost every single child in his preschool class carries an inhaler… Researchers have shown time and again that it is possible to fuel the entire world on alternative energy, if we could only surpass the political barriers. Philadelphia can set an example of not only sustainability but of innovation… I hope that Philadelphia will be on the right side of history for the futures of our families.

Rebecca Finkel:

After 10 years in South Philly, my husband and I have found ourselves at the end of the line. How can we start a family in a city that allows itself to become even more polluted in exchange for economic growth that isn’t even guaranteed? PES owes the city a third-party study of the potential public health impact of their planned expansion. Their refinery currently releases over 700,000 pounds of toxic chemicals into the air every year. How many illnesses has it already contributed to? How many deaths? Public health should be the city’s top concern. Otherwise, Philadelphia will continue to lose residents, one way or another.

Peggy Hartzell:

The fossil fuel energy hub does not just affect Philadelphia. Chester County already has enough gas lines running across it, as well as Bakken crude oil trains running through towns between Montgomery and Chester County and next to Limerick Nuclear Power plant. Thousands of people are being put at risk every day… just to export fossil fuel products to non-local markets. Instead we should be upgrading our energy grid to handle renewable energy like solar and wind with bi-directional micro grids creating true safe energy independence and upgrading buildings to conserve energy and create safe non-polluting jobs.

Rabbi Mordechai ​Liebling​:

2014 was the warmest year on record for overall global temperature. The energy hub will only contribute to global warming by taking resources away from renewable energy. Every dollar invested in renewable energy produces four times as many jobs as a dollar invested in fossil fuels. Philadelphia already has one of the worst air qualities of a major city in the US, the refineries are the single biggest cause, one in four African American children in our city have asthma…

Lori Braunstein:

Philadelphia has tremendous potential to build on Mayor Nutter’s vision of a healthy and sustainable city. We are tough, creative and smart. This plan is not consistent with our local values. We are the last place that should settle for that tired old false choice between dirty jobs and the environment. Philly is not destined to be a global natural gas and fracked oil depot, a pusher for our fossil fuel addiction, a magnet for toxic industrial chemical manufacturing. Our communities deserve better…clean air and water, investment in the green economy and most importantly, a voice in their future.

Julie Hancher:

Does anyone remember the Paulsboro train derailment: 1/2 mile of residents being evacuated for nearly two weeks?

Natural gas pipelines include risks like radon, spills and explosions. How much would Philly lose when a 1/2 mile of Philadelphians can’t return to their homes, local businesses or places of employment due to a spill? It’s absolutely not worth the risk when we have great local leaders like Solar States and the Energy Co-Op providing local and clean energy solutions with solar and wind power.


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