Last update:
2021-07-17

SEPTA Natural Gas Fired Power Plant in Nicetown, Pennsylvania, USA

In an already-heavily polluted urban neighborhood of Philadelphia, a state transport authority proposed a natural gas fired power plant. Local activists and organizations rallied to protest the construction of the site.


Description:

In 2016, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) proposed a $27 million project to build a combined heating and power plant in Nicetown, Philadelphia, PA. The plant's generator burns fracked natural gas that produces 8,800-kilowatts of energy to power 70% of the rail service in Northern Philadelphia and the Midvale bus depot [2,3]. Switching this energy source to the new facility is part of SEPTA’s energy action plan, a sustainability initiative started in 2012. The city of Philadelphia paid for the construction from a grant - Pennsylvania’s Guaranteed Energy Savings Act (GESA) - that was given to SEPTA for construction. GESA finances city projects that reduce energy usage and overall utility spending. SEPTA’s generator is scheduled to run for 20 years. The site resides on the same premises of their Midvale Bus Facility, a depot that holds/stages up to 300 buses a day [2]. 

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:SEPTA Natural Gas Fired Power Plant in Nicetown, Pennsylvania, USA
Country:United States of America
State or province:Pennsylvania
Location of conflict:Nicetown
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Thermal power plants
Specific commodities:Natural Gas
Electricity
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Throughout SEPTA’s proposal and construction of their natural-gas power generator, the company insisted on the validity of the project. The company saw this plant as an opportunity to produce cleaner energy than the company (PECO) they had relied upon before [2]. The company conducted an Environmental Assessment that determined the use of the plant would reduce greenhouse gases by 41% compared to what was being burned beforehand [10]. The 8,800-kilowatt hour plant would provide electricity to the Midvale Bus Depot on site, as well as the regional rails.

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Project area:304
Level of Investment:27,000,000.00
Type of populationUrban
Affected Population:37,000
Start of the conflict:2016
Company names or state enterprises:Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) from United States of America - Owner of Project
Relevant government actors:Philadelphia Air Management Services
International and Finance InstitutionsNORESCO from United States of America - Project Designer
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:350Philadelphia (https://350philadelphia.org) and 350.org

Neighbors Against the Gas Plants https://www.neighborsagainstthegasplants.com
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:International ejos
Local ejos
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Social movements
Forms of mobilization:Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment
Impacts
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Global warming
Potential: Noise pollution
Health ImpactsVisible: Occupational disease and accidents, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide
Potential: Deaths, Other Health impacts
Other Health impactsExposure to pollution from plants increase risks of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Loss of livelihood, Violations of human rights
Potential: Displacement
Outcome
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Development of alternatives:Activists are advocating for SEPTA to switch to renewable energy sources. 350Philadelphia promotes wind and solar projects in Philadelphia instead of the construction of major methane gas fired power plants.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:In the eyes of EJ Activists, this was not an environmental justice success. Despite fierce opposition by local organizations and community members, the air permit was issued by the city and the plant is in operation today.
Sources & Materials
Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

[19] The Constitution of Pennsylvania. Article I, Section 27.
[click to view]

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[9] Association between Residential Proximity to Fuel-Fired Power Plants and Hospitalization Rate for Respiratory Diseases. Environmental Health Perspectives. Xiaopeng Liu, Lawrence Lessner and David O. Carpenter. 2012.
[click to view]

[11] Close to Home: The Health of Philadelphia's Neighborhoods. Drexel Urban Health Collective and Philadelphia Department of Public Health. 2019.
[click to view]

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

[2] SEPTA'S natural gas plant in Nicetown drew controversy. An important ruling could come next month. The Philadelphia Inquirer. Jason Laughlin. September 17, 2019.
[click to view]

[1] Residents weary: SEPTA's proposed plant in Nicetown. The Philadelphia Tribune. Article by Staff Writer. September 26, 2016.
[click to view]

[4] SEPTA. Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia. John Hepp. 2014.
[click to view]

[3] Septa gets to keep air permit, operate gas generator in Nicetown. WHYY. Darryl Murphy. November 26, 2019.
[click to view]

[6] PA Environmental Justice Areas. Department of Environmental Protection.
[click to view]

[7] COVID-19, pollution and race: new health concerns for Nicetown. 6abc. Nydia Han and Heather Grubola. April 19, 2020.
[click to view]

[8] Septa's Plan for Natural Gas Plant May Put Nicetown Residents in Harm's Way. Hidden City. Laura Cofsky. January 27, 2017.
[click to view]

[12] Health Department authorizes SEPTA natural gas plant in Nicetown. WHYY. Catalina Jaramillo. December 1, 2017.
[click to view]

[10] A fight over SEPTA's natural gas generator continues, even as construction nears its end. The Philadelphia Inquirer. Jason Laughlin. September 18, 2018.
[click to view]

[5] The Color of Coronavirus: A Model for Possibilities. The Philadelphia Citizen. James Peterson. September 28, 2020.
[click to view]

[13] Amid angry protest songs, SEPTA board approves Nicetown gas plant, again. WHYY. Jim Saksa. March 24, 2017.
[click to view]

[20] SEPTA Plan Approval Application. November 22, 2016.
[click to view]

[21] SEPTA Advances Innovation Sustainability Projects. SEPTA. October 22, 2015.
[click to view]

[22] SEPTA's Approach to Sustainability. SEPTA Sustainability.
[click to view]

[16] Profile Overview. Pennsylvania State Profile and Energy Estimates. U.S. Energy Information Administration.
[click to view]

[17] Natural Gas Production in Pennsylvania Hits Record High. State Impact Pennsylvania. Rachel McDevitt. September 14, 2020.
[click to view]

[18] 43rd Statewide Grand Jury Finds Pennsylvania Failed To Protect Citizens During Fracking Boom. Josh Shapiro, Attorney General. June 25, 2020.
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

[14] About 350. International movement to end the age of fossil fuels
[click to view]

[15] 350Philadelphia. Fossil Free SEPTA Campaign.
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Mia Berardino, [email protected]; Andrew J. Schneller, Skidmore College
Last update17/07/2021
Comments
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