Commemorating the PES Refinery Explosion 1-Year Ago

June 21, 2020 marks the one-year anniversary of the Philadelphia Energy Solutions oil refinery explosion that nearly killed 1.1 million people. We remember that event as an example of what is at stake if we allow environmental racism to continue.

Black Philadelphians had been sounding the alarm for generations about the foul smells and the dangers of the refinery- about the health epidemic plaguing the community. And we can bet that if Black lives mattered to government officials, PES would not have gotten away with neglecting a maintenance project that led to the explosion last June. For forty five years the pipe that burst was allowed to corrode to half the thickness of a credit card, a mirror of the deterioration we see in Philly's public schools filled with asbestos or the crumbling recreation centers and barren libraries.

But thankfully, our city has been rising up for an end to racism and the Right to Breathe for all people- from pollution to police brutality. And thankfully the movement is mapping the connections and grasping at the roots of the injustice, like when it comes to the city's budget.

We also remember last June's explosion as a catalyst for Philly Thrive's uprising. Because our organization had put in years of work to build a diverse membership base committed to centering the leadership of Black Philadelphians most impacted by the refinery, we were in position for that moment when national news turned to our corner of the country. For months, we made action plans, stood in front of traffic, told our stories, organized buses, and got a lot of experience with the tactic of a "die-in."

We remained steadfast on our birthright to breathe, and we won. We won permanent closure of the largest oil refinery on the East Coast. 150 years of death, destruction, and greed.

Our planet has reached a breaking point because- for one reason- too many fossil fuel facilities were permitted to operate in Black communities across the world. But the people have reached a breaking point too, and we're "fired up, can't take it no more." And the symbols- functional and symbolic- of America's racism are starting to fall.

So on the explosion anniversary, we breathe into this moment in history and we affirm our commitment to Black Lives Mattering in our corner of this outraged and traumatized country. For Philly Thrive, one thing that means is to ensure the future of the PES refinery land holistically involves and benefits residents, especially Black residents deeply deserving of racial, economic, and environmental justice.

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