CCRUN Seminar Abstracts

CCRUN Green Infrastructure, Climate, and Cities Seminar Series

January 13, 2021

For our January session, our Green Infrastructure, Climate and Cities seminar will be held online on the topic Environmental Justice in Philadelphia: the PES Refinery.

In partnership with Environmental Justice Week at the Academy of Natural Sciences and as part of Climate Year at Drexel University and the Academy, our January Green Infrastructure, Climate and Cities seminar will be held online on the topic Environmental Justice in Philadelphia: the PES Refinery.

In June 2019, the Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES) Refinery in South Philadelphia, the largest oil refinery on the East Coast, exploded and one month later filed for bankruptcy. The community surrounding the refinery has long been impacted by the emissions of the refinery, experiencing disproportionately high rates of asthma, cancer, and other chronic health issues. The explosion and subsequent bankruptcy and closure of the refinery has allowed for a unique opportunity to clean up and redevelop this 1,400 acre site.

The Clean Air Council in partnership with Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation at Drexel University have developed a report entitled “Visioning the Reuse of the Philadelphia Energy Solutions Refinery Complex” to begin to reimagine the future of the refinery site. Philly Thrive, a grassroots organization made up of residents near the refinery, have been active voices in centering the community’s demands in the redevelopment of the site and advocating for a just transition to a fossil-fuel free future. Speakers from Clean Air Council, the Lindy Institute, and Philly Thrive will lead this discussion about the future of the PES Refinery site.

For some background, check out Clean Air Council’s page about the refinery, the Lindy Institute’s report about potential reuses for the site, and Philly Thrive’s Right to Breathe and Right to Thrive campaigns.


About the Speakers    

Matt Walker is Clean Air Council’s Advocacy Director where he manages staff across Pennsylvania on campaigns to reduce air and water pollution from industrial infrastructure and advance environmental protections at the local, state, and federal level. Recently, Walker worked with partners to engage stakeholders in envisioning the long-term future of the former South Philly refinery site.  He holds a master’s degree in urban and regional planning and has over ten years of experience engaging communities on taking action to address environmental issues.

Harris Steinberg, Executive Director of the Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation, is one of Greater Philadelphia’s leading practitioners and teachers of urban planning and one of the most respected professionals in civic visioning in the region. He came to Drexel from the School of Design at the University of Pennsylvania where he was the founding director of PennPraxis, the school’s applied research arm. Since 2001, PennPraxis has fostered faculty and student collaboration on real-world projects in architecture, landscape architecture, city and regional planning historic preservation and fine arts. Among his high-profile projects are the award-winning 2006-07 planning process for the central Delaware River, which continues to guide development today; a 2008 study on “Reimagining the Kimmel Center”; action plans to add to Philadelphia’s park space and increase the vibrancy of Benjamin Franklin Parkway; and “The New Fairmount Park,” a vision and action plan released this past spring.

Alexa Ross & Carol White joined together in 2015 with Philadelphians from all backgrounds to build Philly Thrive, a grassroots organization focused on winning back the Right to Breathe for all Philadelphians- starting with the largest oil refinery on the east coast. Ms Carol has been a community leader in South Philadelphia for decades, and she’s grown as a fierce advocate for environmental justice watching family members & neighbors pass away from the refinery’s pollution spewing in her backyard. Alexa has been organizing for climate justice for over ten years, dedicating herself to the craft of basebuilding, leadership development, and campaign strategy. The two met when Alexa knocked on Ms Carol’s door, and ever since they have been cultivating a multiracial, cross-class organization rooted in the neighborhoods surrounding the former PES oil refinery. Philly Thrive organized direct actions and mobilized residents to stand for closure of the refinery following a massive explosion, and declared victory in February 2020 when public pressure played a role in the refinery’s permanent closure. Get involved in repairing the violence of a century of refinery pollution through our current Right to Thrive Campaign, and many other Philly Thrive initiatives contesting for a just transition from the extractive, fossil fuel economy in Philadelphia.