Now Available: Video of Philly IPL Chapter’s March 8th Program!

Philadelphia’s Community Health Act Will Address Environmental Injustice

Any plans to address climate change and shift our economy to clean energy must consider the impacts that burning fossil fuels and production of other industrial pollutants have had on the health and well-being of Philadelphians. Policies must redress this environmental injustice. The March meeting of PA IPL’s Philadelphia Chapter addresses this topic. Our guest, Andres Celin, Outreach Director for City Councilmember Helen Gym, discusses the proposed Community Health Act and the impact it could have addressing pollution and health threats in urban communities.

Andres Celin Bio:
Andres Celin has spent a decade working in education, youth development, social services, and community organizing in the Latino community in North Philadelphia. He is currently the Outreach Director for City Councilmember Helen Gym and is a Certified Trauma-informed Trainer/Practitioner with Lakeside Global Institute. Prior to his current role, Andres was the Lead Organizer at Youth United for Change, where he worked to develop the political leadership of young people in Kensington. He has a B.A. in Cultural Anthropology from Haverford College, and a Master in Public Administration from the University of Pennsylvania.

Community Health Act Description:
Councilmember Gym has introduced legislation aimed at redressing the environmental injustices suffered by Black and Brown communities historically overburdened by pollution. The Community Health Act would require the identification and mapping of ‘environmental justice communities’ based on past, present, and future pollution, environmental stressors, health vulnerabilities, and demographic factors. Any permits for industrial use in or near these communities would require the City to conduct a “cumulative impact assessment” that looks at the actual impact of pollution in context before granting an approval — and empower the City to require mitigating steps to prevent harm.


The Philadelphia chapter of PA IPL is very active. Chapter volunteers plan workshops, services, and work in coalition with many other groups bringing faith voices to climate justice and clean energy transition efforts, and they bring climate justice voices to faith work. Their monthly meetings are on the second Tuesday of the month at 7:00 PM, and are open to everyone. Particular meetings may focus either on planning or on a particular program.

Protecting my family with my whole body, soul, and heart

10689801_757310180994744_7519201329579905246_nGretchen Dahlkemper Alfonso is a field organizer with Mom’s Clean Air Force.  With her permission we’re reposting her beautiful piece about why she’s disrupting her weekend to go to the People’s Climate March in New York on 9/21.  Gretchen got an early start on environmental issues with Sister Pat Lupo and the Benedictine Sisters in Erie, PA.  She will join with Sister Claire Marie Surmik, OSB and Sister Lucia Surmik, OSB in New York City for the People’s Climate March. *Sister Pat can not travel to NYC because she is leading a linked event in Erie (Flier 09-03-14).

I am marching for Reny, my fun-loving 5 year old who loves to spend his summers swimming, kayaking, and playing on the beaches of Lake Erie – a lake that, due to climate change, is threatened by toxic algae blooms.

I am marching for Fiona, my sweet 3 year old who loves animals – frogs, snakes (much to her mother’s dismay!), insects, birds, you name it! I am marching because Continue reading Protecting my family with my whole body, soul, and heart

In times of great challenge, community is revealed

Remarks originally delivered on September 11, 2012 at a  NWF press conference on the release of Ruined Summer: How Climate Change Scorched the Nation in 2012

The report that inspired this conference is about the loss of the American summer.  For most Americans, our mental and emotional pictures of “summer” show a quintessential time of innocent childhood, of backyard gardening, evening strolls, and flashlight tag.  Although few family photo albums are a perfect reflection of the ideal, most adults do have memories of Continue reading In times of great challenge, community is revealed

Responding to lumps of coal

On New Year’s Day 2014 the Centre Daily Times ran a pro-coal, pro-fossil fuel opinion piece titled “Drilling, Mining Boom Does Not Spell Environmental Doom.”

image source
image source

Our response (reprinted below) was published on January 6, 2014.  If you see articles or opinions that are skewed on climate change or fossil fuels, don’t just mutter into your morning coffee.  Respond respectfully with comments online, letters to the editor, or a responsive Opinion piece.  Feel free to call us for help, or crib widely from this piece.  We’ve added internet links to useful sources.  

Author Dave Schellberg is right that we are not currently ready to move completely away from fossil fuels.  He’s wrong to suggest that we should not move as far as we can right now.   The more energy we generate from sustainable sources, the more we support that economy, and push innovation in a positive direction.

Worse that suggesting that inaction should be the choice we make in the face of imperfection, Mr. Schellberg moves from supporting fossil fuels to touting coal.  Coal may currently provide “cheap” fuel, but coal is a menace from beginning to end.  Mine tailings are toxic to waterways, plants, and fish, none of which does the humans nearby any good, either.  A study by the West Virginia University Institute for Health Policy Research shows that living in a coal mining community is dangerous to the health of non-miners, too:  Mining town residents have a 70 percent increased risk for developing kidney disease, a 64 percent increased risk for developing lung diseases (COPD) such as emphysema, and are 30 percent more likely to report high blood pressure.   As for jobs, mining companies have been favoring machines over human employees for decades.   The difference in people needed is immediately evident to anyone who looks at mountaintop removal (also called MTR) equipment*, but it’s also true in underground longwall mining.  The jobs are only there until there is a cheaper way.

Burning coal is better than it used to be thanks to smokestack scrubbers, but it still releases mercury and a slew of lesser-known toxins into the air when it’s burned.   Guess who lives downwind?   Not company executives or trust fund babies.   Babies with much higher rates of lung problems live there.   Asthma, cardiovascular disease are increased for children and adults all higher in these communities.  Cancer rates are higher, too.

Once the coal is burned to create the “cheap” electricity, we’re still not done.  Coal ash is the second largest waste stream in the United States.  Arsenic is one component.  It’s stored in a variety of ways, including unlined waste pits, containment areas with impoundment dams that do not always hold.  The cocktail of substances in coal ash is so toxic that exposure to it increases cancer risk 9 times MORE than smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, and 900 times more than the “acceptable risk” guidelines.  The better the air pollution gets, the worse the ash gets, because all the heavy metals and toxics that are “scrubbed” out of the smoke end up in the solid waste.   We cannot make both better.

Clearly, we’ve got to get off coal, but our power challenge is not just a coal problem.  We must move aggressively away from all fossil fuels.  Climate change threatens both people and planet in so many ways.  This is about public health, about hunger, about disease, about conflict and security, about disaster relief, and, yes, Mr. Schellberg, it is about caring for Creation, for the “clean air and pure water” that the Pennsylvania Constitution says are a right of future Pennsylvanians, and for the very mountains that shout for joy and the rivers that clap their hands in praise.

We can’t do everything today, but we must move as fast and as far as we can, as soon as we can.  We must do so as an act of hope.  Insulate, unplug, walk, and switch to clean power.  Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light can help faith communities, schools, and small businesses do so within-budget.

The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it.  (Psalm 24:1)


* See MTR trucks here.  Be sure to compare to the regular-sized bulldozer to the left of the picture for scale.   Also note: we have the DVD Renewal to loan to members.  One of its 10-15 min segments is about a group of faith leaders visiting an MTR site for the first time.