Let’s NOT Make Philly The New Houston
by Michael Silverstein, guest commentator
Fossil fuel interests had a problem a few years back. They wanted to expand Philadelphia’s refinery business and give a boost to natural gas peddlers who sought to greatly increase their own presence here. But the reality of the city’s past experience with fossil fuels seemed to stand in the way.
Philadelphia was long known as “filthadelphia” because of the stink arising from the fossil fuel industry’s local operations. Forbes magazine had labeled Philly “the capital of toxicity” because of the massive toxic residues that industry left behind when it migrated to other places.
How could the fossil fuel crowd possibly repackage its hopes so it could come back here and do it all again? How could it re-foul the city and construct what are sure to be another gaggle of toxic stranded assets left behind from a new visitation?
Leave it to these cunning rascals to come up with a plan — a so-called “energy hub” built around bringing in a huge increase in North Dakota oil by rail, and making Pennsylvania-generated natural gas from the Marcellus Shale deposits the basis of a new economic spurt. This plan, this vision, they guaranteed, guaranteed! would ensure the city’s future economic prosperity, make us (and this phrase really sealed the deal) “the new Houston.”
It worked perfectly. The entire political class of the city and the state bought in out of honorable concerns about Philadelphia’s economic future. Or maybe because of personal benefits offered. Or simple intellectual ossification. The latter two frequent generators of local planning policies.
What is so extraordinary about this buy-in, however, is that while what was once so obviously just a stupid idea from an environmental and health standpoint, but with seeming economic advantages, makes no economic sense today either. Markets have changed dramatically in the last few years, but thinking within our public policy-making class is as firmly set as when this energy hub hook was first baited.
Oil and gas isn’t a booming industry any longer. It’s in a bust mode with companies going under or restructuring like mad just to stay afloat. It’s no longer a job creator. In the country’s present fossil fuel-based energy hub alone, Houston, an estimated 50,000 oil and gas workers have lost their jobs in the last year or two.
Around the world countries like OPEC leader Saudi Arabia is moving dramatically to build its own future prosperity around solar energy. Europe’s economic leader, Germany, has made and continues to make amazing strides in the economic development and deployment of renewables. In this country, green energy of various kinds is becoming a national leader in new jobs growth in tandem with the fall off of jobs in the fossil fuels industry.
While the Philadelphia and Pennsylvania policy making class bumbles along with its plans to promote a fossil fuels-based energy hub in the city, those clever fossil fuel rascals, who know the truth of changes noted above better than anyone, week after week and month after month systematically put down facts on the ground, creating the fossil fuel infrastructure that will make wake up time in public policy making land irrelevant because Philly missed the boat on renewables and is hopelessly fossil fuel-dependent, like it or no.
We still have elections from time to time in this town. Another one is coming soon. It might be a good time to bring the idiocy of present energy hub planning to the attention of folks who want to keep their jobs.
You never know. Some might still have the courage and intelligence to avoid the worst of where this city is headed on energy.
(The author or this piece, Michael Silverstein, is a former senior editor with Bloomberg News)
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