Updated: Sep 1
"If this LNG Terminal would be so great, why don't you want it in your neighborhood?"
On Tuesday Aug 22, three staff members and Board member Walter Tsou joined the coalition of Chester Residents Concerned for Quality Living, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, PhillyThrive, and others to send a clear message to the task force: "No LNG in Chester. No LNG in environmental justice communities. No LNG anywhere." This was the third hearing held by the task force, but the first held in the community where an LNG terminal is in the permitting process. Staff member Linnea Bond attended the first of the three public hearings, held at the Navy Yard, during which the community was barred from entering the tiny Marriott room because there "weren't enough seats." The PSR PA health educator was only allowed to enter when she was told one seat had been vacated, but once inside she saw at least four people standing along the wall. Staff members Christina DiGiulio and Tammy Murphy had also attended a public meeting in October that preceded the task force, which was held by the PA Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee at the Steamfitter Local 420 union hall in the far northeast section of Philadelphia. Although this was after Penn America Energy had put forward its intent to build an LNG terminal in Chester, and Penn America's CEO and Founder was one of the ten people allowed to speak during the meeting, Chester representatives and residents were not invited to speak, nor were any environmental experts. Instead, the so-called hearing was stacked with international, corporate, monied interests. In discussing LNG, it is essential to review the health harms of natural gas, its warming impact on our planet, and the way it harms residents from extraction to use. Communities located near any processing experiencing higher levels of impacts like cancer and asthma, according to decades of studies including one released this month. When it comes to this LNG task force process, however, before one can talk about health and climate impacts of the infrastructure being proposed, we must recognize and redress the fact that the mostly black and low income local community near this proposed infrastructure has been barred from speaking for themselves in every stage of this process. The mostly White and wealthy task force is replicating centuries of racism and classism by deciding with impunity what they can force upon others to make a profit. When finally allowed to speak for her community on Tuesday, Zulene Mayfield directly reproached the task force members: regardless of the economic boon they claim an LNG facility will be, they are not proposing this build out in their own neighborhoods. Instead, they are steamrolling dissent and pushing it as quickly and as quietly as possible into a neighborhood that is already more at risk in every metric of health from childhood asthma to early mortality due to the nearby incinerator that burns garbage from across the east. Most of the task force members make their money or are funded indirectly by the gas industry. The purpose of these hearings is, at least in theory, for the task force to learn about the obstacles present to LNG in Pennsylvania in order for them to present a report to Governor Shapiro in November. So far the experts speaking to the panelists have been from within the gas industry or have been industry allies extolling the benefits of LNG, aside from one expert. During the second hearing, Adam Nagel of PennFuture spoke to the panel about the need to stop using fossil fuels, including gas, due to the significant warming the planet has already experienced and will continue to suffer to greater degrees. After he spoke, PGW CEO and task force member Seth Shapiro asked, "How else will we replace coal?" Shapiro's combative tone aside, the question is an essential one. His question gets at the heart of why we have this task force to begin with when the work that needs to be done on replacing energy without emissions will require renewables, not fossil fuels, and equitable partnership with communities, not neocolonial manipulation. Our state's continued reliance on gas despite decades of scientific evidence that using gas is one of the major causes of global warming means that we need to examine what other alternatives we have to replace coal and how we can play a part in the global effort to eliminate fossil fuels. Unfortunately, these questions were not being considered on Tuesday, and after Ms. Mayfield and Chester City Councilmember Stefan Roots spoke, the final speaker made clear in his remarks that were directed not to the task force but to gathered Chester residents that most of the task force is already supportive of this facility. The former FERC chair and current advisory board member for Penn America Energy (the company behind the LNG terminal being proposed in Chester) did not try to convince the task force that the permitting process was comprehensive. The task force does not need convincing of anything regarding the benefits and safety of gas. From its first hearing to its last, it is clear: the purpose of the task force is not to consider the health of Pennsylvanians and climate realities, it is to eliminate dissent and move gas interests forward regardless of all evidence that LNG is a dangerous idea.