Bayou by the Schuylkill?

If you’ve never been to Memphis, Tennessee, give it some time, it’ll be coming to us – at least its weather will.

Those of us who love the many distinct seasons in Philly (and cooler summers) will have a hard time wrapping their heads around a recent study in the journal “Nature Communications” that provides a startling forecast for Philly — in 60 years our climate will be like that of Memphis, Tennessee. Check out the study website where you can look up any one of 540 cities in the U.S. and Canada to see what the climate will look like in a couple generations, due to the current rate of fossil fuel-based emissions. (Editor’s note: We’ve also included some graphics from an interactive map from Climate Central, a Princeton-based climate research institute, that lets users imagine what rising sea levels caused by climate change might do to famous Philly landmarks in 2100)

In charts depicting climate change under different emissions scenarios, the current rate of fossil fuel-based emissions is often referred to as “business as usual” — the scenario where we ignore decades of well-established science and continue accelerating toward the worst outcomes.

Business as usual is a good description of the Liquefied Natural gas (LNG) project that Philadelphia Gas Works (PGW) hopes City Council will approve in the near future – adding one more nail in the coffin of the stable climate we all depend on.

Click image to access the “Nature Communications” study website and interactive map.

What is the status now?

Shortly after a Gas Commission hearing in December where the proposal was approved, including a favorable vote by East Falls Councilman Curtis Jones who is a member of the Gas Commission, a coalition of more than 20 organizations formed to oppose the plant. The coalition includes community, faith, health and environmental groups across the city.

Philly Airport in 2100. Climate Central/Google Earth. Click this image to access the Climate Central site.

City Council must now decide in an election year whether or not to allow this controversial project to go forward. The Council’s Committee on Transportation and Public Affairs scheduled a hearing about the plant on February 27, with a vote expected in the weeks to follow.

In a city where the Mayor has pledged a transition to 100% clean energy, it should not be necessary to hold a hearing about building a new fossil fuel plant that is intended to operate for the next 25 years.

In nixing the rebuild of several gas-fired power plants recently, Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles said “It’s the right thing to do for our health. It’s the right thing to do for our Earth. It’s the right thing to do for our economy. And now is the time to start the beginning of the end of natural gas.”

Navy Yard in 2100. Climate Central/Google Earth

If we want to remain Philadelphia and not become Memphis – we need to plan how to transition the city and PGW away from dependence on gas, rather than build a new fossil fuel plant.

What is LNG?

Liquefied natural gas is produced by processing, then cooling gas to approximately 260 degrees below zero (Fahrenheit) which turns it into a liquid. Typically this is done so it can be more easily transported via specialized ships or trucks. As you can imagine this requires a lot of energy. When it reaches its destination, it must be maintained in expensive cryogenic storage, then more energy is used to warm it back to a gas for use.

Schuylkill Banks in 2100. Climate Central/Google Earth

What is PGW proposing?

PGW currently operates a small LNG facility at its Passyunk plant. The LNG is used to supplement supply during peak demand winter days. PGW has previously tried to expand into an LNG commercial producer — a project rejected by City Council several years ago. This time PGW proposes to build the plant in conjunction with a private partner, Liberty Energy Trust, who would provide capital to build to build the plant. As part of the proposal PGW would be paid $1.35 million in yearly fees (PGW’s annual budget is about 60+ million) with the possibility of additional revenue depending on LNG prices. PGW’s Public Advocate disputes the potential for additional revenue saying the projection is based on unachievable sales and price estimates.

FDR Park in 2100. Climate Central/Google Earth

What can you do?

Please reach out to council members, particularly Curtis Jones (215.686.3416). Also contact Kenyatta Johnson (215.686.3412) whose district would be home to the plant, and who chairs the Committee holding the February hearing.

UPDATE: March 1

Sadly, a Philadelphia City Council committee voted today to allow the building of the plant to proceed but all is not lost. There remains a vote by the full City Council at the end of March. Please call your council members to urge them to vote for a cleaner environment. And visit 350Philly’s website to find out other ways to help the cause.

Karen Melton is a member of 350Philly, a group dedicated to building a global grassroots climate movement. She’s lived in East Falls for 25 years and, since retiring in 2012, has been a full time environmental advocate.

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