On Thursday February 13th, the sale of the PES refinery site was confirmed to Hilco Redevelopment Partners in U.S. Bankruptcy Court. Hilco’s bid on the site involves permanent closure of the refinery, and therefore a major victory for Philly Thrive’s organizing for the Right to Breathe.
The end to 150 years of oil refining in Philadelphia was brought about through people power. The leadership of South Philadelphians who have survived the fossil fuel industry for generations galvanized people & political will never seen before on this issue. Residents told stories of the direct impact of the refinery on human life and the veil was pulled back on the largest oil refinery on the East Coast. The truth about the issue as a matter of racism, classism, & ecological destruction- instead of just “the environment”- birthed a new force for climate justice in Philadelphia that shook the foundation of power relations in our city.
Over the past four years, the stories and solutions of Philadelphians most impacted by the PES refinery were supported and reinforced in leadership teams that strategized together to build power to make change. Across generation, neighborhood, race, & gender we organized ourselves into a force and bold action was the result. Sometimes that action took the form of well-prepared meetings with elected officials, sometimes we were forced to disrupt what wasn’t working, and sometimes we had to use civil disobedience. Thriver Rodney Ray jokes about how skilled we had to get at a “die-in” and how we ran our sunflower props ragged.
We invite everyone who breathes air and everyone battling systemic oppression to feel this victory, and to allow it to fuel us towards comprehensive climate justice. Towards the day our country has a dignified plan for transitioning fossil fuel workers out of the industry that’s terrorized the planet and the 99%. Towards the day communities of color are no longer targets of death & destruction. Towards the day we have a healthy energy system, a democracy responsive to the people, and a rational economy that values life over profit.
Philly Thrive looks forward to working with Hilco to determine the future of the land. After months of intense organizing, we will take a breath of fresh air and collect ourselves for the campaign ahead. This campaign will come together in the next few weeks but will include demands such as:
- Begin plans for dismantling the refinery infrastructure
- No new polluting fuel projects on the land and phasing out of current fossil fuel operations
- Funding to assist the public with technical participation in clean up plans
- Active public involvement in decisions about redevelopment
- A quota for quality, union jobs to surrounding neighborhoods.
Deep gratitude to all who have supported Philly Thrive in whatever way you were able — from donating to showing up for an action to telling someone else about our work to loving Thrive members individually. Keep an eye out for what’s to come, as the Right to Breathe always meant much more than eliminating the largest polluter in the city. If you live in Philly join us to dream up possible future campaigns including accountability & reparations for PES’s atrocious benzene releases, a municipal Green New Deal, Right to Breathe legislation, and joining up with forces to improve affordability & access to public transit as a key justice issue. Onward to rest, celebration, reflection, and strategizing!