October 14, 2015

Re: Green Justice Philly and the future of air quality in Philadelphia

(Read by Matt Walker, Clean Air Council, at October 14th Air Pollution Control Board meeting)

Dear members of the Air Pollution Control Board,

Green Justice Philly is a diverse and growing coalition committed to building a healthy, sustainable and economically just Philadelphia region. The coalition works together to oppose dirty fossil fuel industries that put our neighborhoods at risk, make our citizens sick, and cannot contribute to our long-term prosperity.

Residents of Philadelphia are exposed to chronic elevated levels of air pollution. The Philadelphia region is not in attainment of the federal standards for ground-level ozone and recorded its largest number of days with high particle pollution on average over the last several years. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently tightened the health-based standard for ozone, which will require more attention to reducing ozone precursors in the future.

Philadelphia’s low-income populations are often impacted the most from air pollution and from the weather extremes and resulting poor air quality exacerbated by climate change. Reducing air pollution is crucial for Philadelphia, where about one in four children are diagnosed with asthma and people die every summer from smog exacerbated by extreme heat from climate change.

The Philadelphia Energy Action Team, part of the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, has been championing a plan, which they call the Philadelphia Energy Hub. The so-called energy hub would include expanding refineries, liquefied natural gas, oil trains, gas and gas liquids pipelines, and petrochemical manufacturing. Increasing the number of such facilities would reverse the progress the city has made in cleaning up its air by re-invigorating and ramping up many of the same types of pollution sources as those largely responsible for Philadelphia’s history of poor air quality. New or expanded infrastructure, such as the expanding Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES) refinery, would significantly increase harmful air pollution in the region.

Green Justice Philly and its member organizations are seriously concerned about the proposal to transform Philadelphia into a fossil fuel energy hub and what that means for air quality and public health in Philadelphia. Such a build up will substantially further degrade Philadelphia’s air quality and have a disproportionate impact on low-income neighborhoods being asked to host such facilities and or expansions. The continued use of fossil fuels are associated with devastating global, regional and local public health and environmental impacts. A fossil fuel energy hub vision is incompatible with the efforts that the City has taken to make Philadelphia one of the greenest cities in America.

As the Air Pollution Control Board, you are charged with advising the Department of Health and promulgating regulations that will protect air quality and public health in Philadelphia. In light of the current and proposed fossil fuel expansions in the city, Green Justice Philly asks the Air Pollution Control Board to use its authority to develop the most stringent performance and emission standards possible to ensure public health is protected to the greatest extent.

In addition, Green Justice Philly asks the Air Pollution Control Board for its opinion about the air pollution limits and violation history at the Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES) refinery, which is a major piece of the fossil fuel energy hub campaign. Does the Air Pollution Control Board believe that the current standards that limit emissions and govern technology requirements, especially in terms of air toxics, are strong enough to fully protect the health of residents who live near the refinery? If the answer is no, then the coalition respectfully asks you to review the current requirements and pollution controls for the refinery and make whatever changes necessary to fully meet public health goals. The fact that the refinery has been in operation prior to the Clean Air Act should not give its operators a free pass to pollute more. When conducting your analysis, we ask the board to take into account the refinery’s recent and ongoing violations, the fact that the refinery is a major source of air toxics for the region, and that PES has discussed expanding in the future.

Philadelphia is at a crossroads – is its future one that promotes the fossil fuels and resulting poor air quality of the past or is it one that embraces an environmentally sustainable local economy and continues to see improvements in air quality? The proposed fossil fuel hub would threaten our chance to continue to build an environmentally sustainable economy that will promote clean air and curb climate change. Hopefully as leaders who can impact air quality in Philadelphia, you will make the choices that protect public health as much as possible.

Sincerely,

Green Justice Philly:
ACTION United
Clean Air Council
Clean Water Action
Delaware Riverkeeper Network
Food & Water Watch
Maypop Collective for Economic and Climate Justice
Philadelphia Chapter of Pennsylvania Interfaith Power and Light

And all Green Justice Philly Membership Organizations:
350 Philly
Action United
CCP Coalition for a Sustainable Future
Clean Air Council
Delaware Riverkeeper Network
Exact Solar
Farm to City
Food & Water Watch
Fossil Free Drexel
Keystone Catholics
Moms Clean Air Force
North of Washington Ave Coalition (NOWAC)
Pennsylvania Federation BMWED – Teamsters
Philadelphia Chapter of Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light
Philadelphia Neighborhood Networks
Philadelphia Be the Change
Philly Electric Wheels
Protecting Our Waters
Physicians for Social Responsibility-Philadelphia
The Shalom Center