Philadelphia Community Fights Oil Refinery Expansion


PHILADELPHIA-The It Takes Roots People’s Caravan arrived to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia from the Republican National Convention in Cleveland to make a stop at Sunoco’s Philadelphia Refinery, an oil refinery that wants to expand.  Neighbors are saying though, “Not in my neighborhood.” And groups across the hemisphere are joining them in support.

As a final stop on the Caravan’s “Toxic Tour” about 100 people from as far away as California, and also Honduras from the Indigenous environmental and human rights group COPINH joined the action.  COPINH recently lost one of their leaders, Berta Caceres to an assassination.  Caceres had long received death threats for her work protecting the environment against destruction by multinational corporations that wanted to profit from dam and mining projects.  Her daughter, Laura Zuniga and another COPINH member, Rosalina Dominguez Madrid joined in.

The Caravan made its final stop: a “Toxic Tour” led by Philly Thrive, ACTION United, and LeftRoots.

Kia organizes with ACTION United and also lives in the neighborhood of the refinery, “I can remember when I was a little girl and I could see the smoke coming out of this refinery.  I never understood what it was.  It wasn’t until I got older and started learning about climate change and how the use of dirty fossil fuels is hurting our planet.  And also I learned that people are making money off of having this dirty refinery in our communities and it’s not right.  It makes us sick.  It harms us.  And we are the most vulnerable community and it’s not right.”

Timmy Lu organizes with the group Asian Pacific Environmental Network in Richmond California said that his community is also impacted by fossil fuel refining and transport.  “Richmond is a low-income, people of color community.  There are many immigrants and refugees living there and they too are threatened by the full life cycle of fossil fuels.  These communities may not be the ones where the oil is pulled out of the ground, but it’s also where it’s transported [by] oil trains.  These are the communities where we have the refineries within eyesight.  We suffer from flaring and industrial accidents.  Like in Richmond there was an explosion that sent thousands of people to the hospital in 2012.  The refinery in Richmond is the single largest emitter of carbon dioxide in California.  So we fought Chevron wherever Chevron was.  We fought them in the streets through direct action.  We fought them in the courtroom.  And we fought them at the ballot box too.  And I’m proud to say that in 2013 when Chevron spent $3 million to try to buy an election, they bought every billboard in Richmond and started their own newspaper to spread their propaganda, we started a coalition of labor unions, of community members, of people of color, of indigenous peoples to stand together and say ‘no’ to Chevron.”

Rosalina Dominguez Madrid spoke to The Nation Report earlier this month in Rio Blanco, Honduras.  She brought her message from Rio Blanco to the US,  “This may be the last day of our Caravan, but I wish it were many more days so that we could continue to unite our communities.  I come from Honduras and we have to unite so that we can really change and fight back against these transnationals.  When they come to our communities, they say they come to bring development.  That is a lie.  In our community they brought in a company that is destroying our land, and destroying what we’ve cultivated.  We must all raise our voices as the impacted community because with that voice we can beat them because the people united will never be defeated! It’s been three, almost four years that we have been resisting the implementation of a hydroelectric dam in our community and we are not tired.  We’re going to continue resisting that dam.  Just like they attack us, we have to be on the alert in all of our communities so that we can defend each other as people who are defending rights. In our community from resisting that dam project, there now have been five people assassinated.  On March 2, one of them was the great leader Berta Caceres.” 

The organizations Philly Thrive and ACTION United say they will continue their on-going campaign to demand that the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority reject and disqualify any dirty energy proposals at the Southport MarineTerminal.  Currently a proposed expansion of the refinery is the most immediate threat from Philadelphia Energy Solutions.

Members of the community and organizations say that Governor Tom Westerman Wolf has refused to meet with them in their communities.  The Board of the Port Authority is appointed by him. 

In 1988, Sunoco acquired a refinery in South Philadelphia as part of its purchase of Atlantic Refining and Marketing Company and, in 1994, purchased an adjacent refinery from Chevron. Integrating the two refineries into one facility with two operating areas, Sunoco created the Philadelphia Refinery, one of the oldest continuously operating petroleum facilities in the world with origins dating back to the 1860s when the petroleum industry was in its infancy. The Philadelphia Refinery employs more than 900 people and can process 330,000 barrels a day of crude oil into fuels, including gasoline, aviation fuel, kerosene, heating oil, residual fuel, propane and butane for sale throughout the Northeast to retail, wholesale and commercial customers. In addition, this facility produces petrochemical feedstocks that are shipped to the Sunoco Chemicals’ plant in Frankford, Pa., to make phenol that is used in the manufacture of plastics and synthetics.

The It Takes Roots Caravan is a delegation of diverse frontline communities from across the country and around the world. Their caravan has used the political mobilization of this electoral moment to lift up issues, primarily: militarism, feminism, and climate change.

The group held a rally near the Sunoco Chemical’s plant and then took the intersection in front of the plant blocking traffic for about five minutes including a fuel truck leaving the plant.  Marchers placed flowers in the chain link fenced surrounding the property.  The flowers were symbolic of sunflowers that are known to absorb toxins out of the air and soil.  Police came upon the scene but none was arrested. 

The groups vowed to continue their struggle for safe and healthy communities in Philadelphia.


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