Today we celebrate the official end to over a century of unjust, racist, and deadly oil refining in South Philadelphia, as Hilco Redevelopment Partners closed on the purchase of the site in bankruptcy court. In spite of the bankruptcy court’s process that excludes residents as a key stakeholder, Philadelphians influenced the outcome by uniting, organizing, and mobilizing for our Right to Breathe. Today the victory of permanent refinery closure has been solidified.
Hilco CEO Roberto Perez called Philly Thrive as one of their first acts as the new owner of the site. This is the right first step towards holistic inclusion of residents in the next era of the land. In accordance with Philly Thrive’s principles as a leaderful organization, three Thrive members spoke to Mr. Perez about what the sale means to us and what the future must hold.
Update: Application deadlines extended to May 17th!
Winning back our #RightToBreathe from the PES refinery was the first chapter of Philly Thrive's work. Going forward, we need more support to keep growing & leading on climate justice in Philadelphia. Read on to see if you have the skills to join Philly Thrive in one of the roles we're looking for!
Philly Thrive organizes in action circles that move forward critical parts of our work. Read all about what our circles are up to & join us:
- Strategy Circle: There are several pots on the stove when it comes to ways Philly Thrive is using our collective power during this period. We are throwing our support behind local campaigns on the frontlines of COVID-19, including with our coalition partners at the Alliance for a Just Philadelphia. We’ve also started a circle to study & prepare policies for a Green Recovery in Philadelphia, and are still keeping our sights on Hilco in anticipation of refinery land redevelopment.
- The Cleanup Circle is preparing to meet with the EPA, and we’re thinking of how our pro bono technical advisors can be most helpful to us. We are also continuing to learn about the contamination on the refinery site, and we will be creating a "knowledge base" with questions that we have, and answers that we receive, so that we can pass that knowledge on to everyone as we work together to ensure the site is cleaned up properly. Check out the circle’s first-ever Remediation Bulletin to learn more.
- The Communications Circle is getting ready to update our social media with our community care efforts, to make sure we can connect as many people as possible to care for each other! We are also still building relationships with press and working on some storytelling work, like videos and flyers. Check out Philly Thrive in the news talking about PES & how pollution makes environmental justice communities more vulnerable to COVID-19: E&E News, WHYY, and Mother Jones.
- The Tech Circle has formed during COVID-19 to address the unjust technology gap amongst Thrive members so everyone has access to internet & can participate in the movement’s online activities. We’re building a squad of “tech teachers” to teach each other how to use Zoom & other programs, and also redistributing devices to access the internet. If you want to volunteer teaching Zoom virtually to Thrive members or have a device to donate (laptop, tablet, smart phone) contact Tarik at 240-753-5600.
- The Funds Circle is raising money through a crowdfunding campaign so we can rise to the challenge of COVID and meet folks’ needs, through food boxes, laundry, prescription errands, emotional support, and more. We’re also applying for grants to support our ongoing work including paying 3 part-time staff. The Funds Circle is continuing to dream up ways we can be fundraising AND building community in this moment, including an online concert (Breath of Fresh Air round 3!). Give Rachel a call at 571-276-1737 to chat about resourcing our movement.
- The Membership Circle, during this time of the coronavirus pandemic, is working to reach out to our community, identifying resources and supporting community members who need to help them and referring them to services available through Philly Thrive’s Community Care Circle.
- The Home/HQ Circle is still looking for Philly Thrive’s first office space. At this time we are not able to visit locations, however we are maintaining a list of places to visit once Stay-At-Home is lifted and it is safe to do so. If you come across a property that could potentially become our home, please contact James at 703-965-4866
- The Youth Circle is continuing to build connections with Philadelphia Youth Climate Strike and brainstorming how to adapt the Strike to a virtual format. We are thinking about how we can center youth as powerful leaders and change-makers within the community. Our preliminary ideas (which will be shaped by social distancing) include building partnerships with food justice, gardening, and urban farm organizations with strong youth leadership models as well as imagining our own ways to grow and garden within Thrive. Call Jendaiya at 919-985-4855 to learn more and help build the youth circle’s vision.
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.
Statement in Response to Auction Results of PES Refinery
On Tuesday January 21st Reuters reported that Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES) was expected to sell the oil refinery site to Hilco Redevelopment Partners- a Chicago real estate firm that specializes in repurposing industrial land. Later that day, the Philadelphia Inquirer confirmed the sale plan with a statement from PES’s chief executive.
It is significant to us that the announcement about PES’s sale fell on the 7-month anniversary of the refinery explosion last summer. Philadelphians haven’t taken for granted that every single one of us could have lost our lives that day, adding to the death toll that South & Southwest Philly have shouldered for generations. Therefore we will not forget the date: June 21st, 2019.
Philadelphians have been organizing for our Right to Breathe every day since- building on years of campaigning before that- with the opportunity to end 150 years of injustice at hand. As a result, we have seen public opinion and political consensus in Philadelphia shift on the refinery issue, a strong beginning to an urgent and long-term shift away from fossil fuels towards an equitable, sustainable energy system in our state and country.Read more
On September 25th, the sixth & final public meeting of Mayor Jim Kenney's Refinery Advisory Group was held. Philadelphia residents participated in each meeting, traveling straight from work, missing school, finding childcare, & coming out despite illnesses from the refinery's pollution. One resident had an asthma attack in the hallway of the first meeting & left in an ambulance. At last night's final "Open House" meeting, residents staged a die-in because we're not sure the Advisory Group has fully received the message that fossil fuels & pollution simply are not compatible with human life- whether you're a steelworker, a Grays Ferry resident, or the Managing Director. Read the statement Thrive member Pamela Grant delivered over the bodies spread across the gymnasium floor...
Over the past several weeks, Philly Thrive members have participated in a series of public meetings organized by the Mayor Jim Kenney’s Refinery Advisory Group. The stated purpose of these meetings has been to gather information from key stakeholders about the future of the Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES) oil refinery.
The way the process has been organized and the meetings have been facilitated has unfortunately exacerbated the centuries-old tactic of dividing working class people and pitting us against each other. In this case, the Mayor’s Advisory Group meetings have encouraged the divisions between two groups of people sorely hurting: workers who have been forced out of their union job at PES and residents whose community’s have long suffered the impacts of polluting industry with little-to-no benefit. With the complete absence of PES representatives in the room, fear, anger, and grief have found likely targets in each other instead of the companies and executives responsible for the refinery.Read more
It is with great relief the PES oil refinery has currently shut down operations after over 100 years. The refinery, outdated in technology, as well as principle, closed due to a massive explosion felt for miles that rendered part of the plant unusable. The explosion and fire that burned for days plagued the city with poor air quality as well as the possibility that hydrogen fluoride, a super deadly gas used in the refining process could have been released during the disaster. Thankfully, Philadelphia dodged that bullet, but we as a city,- as a planet- should not be using energy sources that require deadly chemicals to function while also destroying the environment with their output.Read more