POWER writes to the Mayor, connecting climate and racial justice

Dear Mayor Kenney,

Thank you for your commitment to making Philadelphia a greener, more inclusive, and most importantly a racially equitable city for all. Through your pledge to a citywide transition to 100% renewable energy, your Rebuild proposal to create jobs and improve our libraries, parks and recreation centers, and for building a multi-racial coalition across the city, you are hearing the calls and the pleas of the City’s residents.

Today, we urge you to continue heeding the voices of Philadelphians, especially the residents of Nicetown. We ask you to take bold leadership toward a fossil free future by insisting that SEPTA:

  1. Cancel the plan for a gas-fired power plant in Nicetown;
  2. Conduct a full health study about the proposed power plant, and a full analysis of alternative strategies for addressing the potential impact of PECO outages;
  3. Develop a plan to use 100% renewable energy to power our city’s trains, busses, trolleys, and subways that could have the potential to create more local jobs than the proposed gas plant.

As a multi-racial, multi-faith organization, we believe we have a moral duty to protect people and the planet. As Pope Francis wrote in his encyclical Laudato Sii, “the cry of the earth is the cry of the poor.” We at POWER believe that we must look at the intersections of the economy, race and climate. We must build a city that is rooted in justice at that intersection.

We are at a time where half-measures are no longer enough. Today we face the rise of white supremacy and hate, deepening environmental injustice and degradation, and increasing economic inequity. We need bold solutions to power us forward and build what Dr. King called the Beloved Community.

In our recent report, Black Work Matters: Green Jobs, we identify a pathway that can lift people out of poverty, create healthier neighborhoods, and build an economy that works for all, not just some. In fact, we can lift 1 in 5 families out of poverty through green jobs strategies. The proposed SEPTA gas plant would take us in the opposite direction. The gas plant will only foment inequity, by leading to poorer air quality and health for Nicetown residents. More than 90% of Nicetown residents are Black, and the neighborhood experiences a poverty rate of over 44% and a childhood asthma rate of 31%. The proposed gas plant will only exacerbate asthma and other illnesses that impact people of color at rates higher than White residents.

In addition, the plant would also release greenhouse gas emissions for at least 20 years, contributing to the crisis of climate disruption.. This is tragic for a publicly-funded investment in energy infrastructure.

Climate crisis exacerbates housing insecurity and displacement, energy insecurity, food insecurity, and water insecurity. We need to use our public funds to build renewable energy infrastructure that will help mitigate climate change, create jobs, and allow for communities to build resilience to thrive.

SEPTA has already made a small step in shifting to renewable energy, by planning to install solar panels on four of its buildings. That solar project will lead to cleaner air, protect the climate, and create good jobs for Philadelphians. We applaud that project, and we need SEPTA to build upon it by planning a transition to 100% renewable energy. Building a gas plant — using Philadelphians’ tax dollars and fare dollars — will delay that shift for many years.

As Mayor, you have a commitment to building a better city for all its residents. Your pledge to work for a transition to 100% renewable energy is a crucial part of that commitment. Taking action to stop the Nicetown gas plant and to urge SEPTA to move to 100% renewable energy would be a great first step toward that goal.

We hope to discuss this issue and the larger effort for a just transition with you in the near future.

In Peace,

Paula Paul, Rabbi Julie Greenberg
Co-Chairs POWER Green Jobs and Climate Justice Group

A printable version of this letter can be found here.

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