Unprecedented New Report Details Sweeping Environmental Injustice of Pennsylvania’s Ongoing Fossil Fuel Buildout
Washington, D.C. – A comprehensive new report released today from the advocacy group Food & Water Watch provides a detailed look at the startling environmental injustice of the ongoing fossil fuel power buildout in Pennsylvania. The report, the first of its kind in scope and purview, provides an in-depth confirmation of decades of environmental justice findings related to race and income. But it also sheds light on a newer trend in Pennsylvania fossil fuel development – specifically, the buildout of natural gas power plants in rural, lower-income, economically disadvantaged communities throughout the state.
“In looking at a state that epitomizes the gas fracking boom in America, what we found was truly startling: a doubling-down of the gravest environmental and public health threats from fossil fuels being levied on communities of color and lower-income areas that have borne the brunt of these hazards for generations,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “It’s simply unjust, and it’s a key reason we’ve been fighting to ban fracking and fossil fuel infrastructure for nearly a decade.”
Among the top-line conclusions of the report:
- Communities of color were substantially more likely to live within three miles of an existing fossil fuel power plant than whiter communities, regardless of income.
- 42% of census tracts where people of color make up 30% + of the population are located near a fossil fuel power plant (vs. 9% of mostly white areas.)
- Upper income communities of color were nearly twice as likely to live near existing power plants as lower-income, mostly white areas (25.0% vs 13.4%.)
- People of color make up 39% population within 3 miles of existing and proposed plants, nearly double the 22% overall state population.
- New and proposed fracked gas-fired power plants compound environmental injustice across the state. New plants are overwhelmingly in areas with lower income and lower educational attainment.
- High (20% +) SNAP participation areas are twice as common near 1 new/proposed plant and four times as common near 2 or more plants than throughout rural areas in general.
- The poverty rate is over 60% higher in areas near power plants than in the rest of Pennsylvania.
In the North Philadelphia neighborhood of Nicetown, a low-income community of color, Food & Water Watch is working with local activists and community leaders to fight a new gas-fired power plant, proposed by the regional transit authority SEPTA. This proposal exemplifies the environmental injustice patterns documented in our report.
“We firmly believe that to build the SEPTA plant in the heart of a poor black and brown neighborhood already beset with pollution overload is a blatant example of environmental racism,” said J. Jondhi Harrell, executive director of TCRC Philly and longtime Nicetown resident. “By Septa’s own admission this plant will drop 81.6 tons of toxic emissions per year on an area already burdened by 90,000 vehicles and 300 diesel buses moving in and out of the SEPTA bus depot. The area has one of the highest rates of childhood asthma hospitalizations in the city. In an area plagued with lack of opportunity, high unemployment, crime, and under-resourced schools, it is criminal for SEPTA to drop additional tons of pollutants on top of volatile living conditions.”
“As a long-time resident of Nicetown, it deeply concerns me that our community is continuously being poisoned by fossil fuels,” said Eric Marsh, vice chairman of the Neighborhood Advisory Sub-Committee, Nicetown NAC. “And as the father of a child recently diagnosed with asthma, and as a parent representative of over 500 students at Steel Elementary School – many of whom have asthma as well – I find it unconscionable that plants like these are cropping up across the state in only the poorest communities, with no real monitoring or mitigating systems in place. As a father, I refuse to stand by and let them poison our children and our communities.”