• Evie Sorrell

Philly Thrive vs. The PES oil refinery: The Rally and People's Confirmation.

Updated: Feb 25

Banner outside of PES oil refinery at The People's confirmation. Photo by Evie Sorrell.

Story by Evie Sorrell.

After the PES Refinery explosion on June 21st of 2019, Philly Thrive has been advocating for the environmental justice of South Philly residents.

Philly Thrive hosted another youth organized climate rally on February 1, 2020 at the DiSilvestro Recreation Center. The event lasted for nearly an hour and a half, during which several leaders and community residents spoke on why they believe the PES refinery should not be replaced with another refinery.

“We are not going to let polluting companies come back into the city. We are not going to let people get sick and die over something as stupid as fossil fuels,” said Jendaiya Hill, Philly Thrive member and rally host.

(From left to right) Philly Thrive member Carol Hemingway, and event organizers Avery Broughton and Jendaiya Hill

Cheers erupted from the audience at this opening statement. Several Philly Thrive representatives spoke on behalf of the organization, explicitly stating the goals they hold for the refinery. Specifically, James Mullison called for proper air pollutant measurement and for efficient site clean-up.

Avery Broughton, a seventeen year old organizer of the event, advocated for the importance of youth leadership in the movement, a sentiment echoed by the older members of the organization. Tyrique Glasglow, Executive Director of Young Chances Foundation, said “today, this (the refinery) is a problem, and this is our answer,” motioning towards two young representatives of South Philly Junior Stakeholders. Mr. Glasglow also spoke on the health and emotional effects of living near the refinery: “nobody made the correlation (between the refinery) to mental and emotional health that goes on in our neighborhood.”

During an invited audience exchange period, one audience member shared that she was struck by poems on cancer and asthma that the representatives, ages 8 and 13, from the South Philly Junior Stakeholders had read. “No child should have to know how to pronounce chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.”

After another panel on the importance of youth leadership, the event closed with an invitation to attend The People’s Confirmation and a song entitled “We have a right to breathe.”

2/3/20 - The People’s Confirmation

Philadelphia community members playing the songs of Philly Thrive. Photo by Evie Sorrell.

Philly Thrive hosted “The People’s Confirmation” on Monday February 3rd. Organizers and protestors peacefully occupied the entrance space to the refinery from 8 am to 6 pm, the longest occupation Philly Thrive has conducted to date. Food, music, games, speakers, and workshops were planned and provided throughout the day.

The People’s Confirmation demonstration was in support of the chosen auction bid to buy out the bankrupt refinery. After a closed auction, a real-estate company based in Chicago was chosen. The company, Hilco, has a history of taking polluted industrial sites such as the refinery, rehabilitating the land, and then re-purposing it.

Hilco’s bid win is not without contestation. Creditors to the refinery are in favor of Industrial Realty Group (IRG), who has partnered with “Phossil Phil” Renaldi, almost certainly with the intent of re-opening the refinery. The trade advisor to President Trump has also expressed his support for the refinery to resume operations.

Local residents are in support of Hilco’s bid, as long as the jobs generated in the clean-up and under the new facility constructed go to residents.

However, neither side has the capacity to make the final decision. That responsibility rests with Judge Kevin Gross of Delaware. Judge Gross will confirm (or deny) the bid on Wednesday, February 6. Hence the name of the occupation: “The People’s Confirmation.”

Several residents, including ex-refinery workers, shared their stories about the refinery and why they want it to stay closed. One ex-employee and Philly Thrive member, Rodney Ray, shared that as a PES employee, his job was to enter the oil tanks, climb along the scaffolding, and scrape away the dried oil. All he was given to protect himself was a cloth mask. Mr. Ray retired early from PES as a result of spending a month in the hospital due to heart failure.

Our past coverage details several health concerns that have been presented before the Philadelphia City Council.

Update: The confirmation date was moved to February 13th.

Update: Judge Gross confirmed Hillco's bid for the former PES refinery land.

The Environmental Exchange

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