***FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE***
PRESS RELEASE: 350 Philadelphia, Nicetown Residents Serve SEPTA with Lawsuit
The lawsuit addresses SEPTA’s plan to build a natural gas power plant in Nicetown
[Philadelphia, PA] In response to SEPTA Board’s failure to provide adequate public notice before approving a contract to build a fracked-gas power plant in Nicetown-Tioga, 350 Philadelphia and three Nicetown-Tioga residents have filed a lawsuit against the transit agency.
The complaint, which was filed on December 16, 2016 and served upon SEPTA on January 13, 2017 invokes the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act, which requires that government agencies give public notice before they take a vote, as well as Pennsylvania’s Guaranteed Energy Savings Act (GESA), which states that these agencies must also give at least ten days notice before voting on a contract.
Under GESA, SEPTA was required to notify the public about the vote at least ten days in advance. Not only did SEPTA fail to do so — providing notice on November 8 for a November 17 vote — but it also violated the Pennsylvania Sunshine Law by neglecting to properly advertise the public meeting at which the vote would take place.
While waiting for months for SEPTA to provided requested information and explanations, 350 Philadelphia had urged SEPTA to give them advance notice before taking action on the project; and SEPTA staff had agreed to do so. Nevertheless, the SEPTA Board did not provide proper notice to 350 Philadelphia, Nicetown community leaders, or other interested parties prior to placing project authorization on the agenda for their November 17th meeting, nor did they publish an announcement about their public meeting to take a vote in any newspapers, magazines or other widely-circulating media. Information on the public vote meeting was only posted on SEPTA’s website, on an inconspicuous page.
Only putting notice on SEPTA’s website is especially problematic in this case, since many Nicetown residents don’t have computers.
Despite requests for postponement of the vote by four members of the City Council, the SEPTA board authorized the project at its November 17th meeting.
“We believe that SEPTA’s refusal to provide adequate notice before voting on the gas plant is part of a larger pattern,” said Mitch Chanin of 350 Philadelphia. “In planning for the fracked gas plant and in formulating its energy policies more generally, SEPTA has not acted transparently and has failed to be accountable to its riders, its neighbors, and the public as a whole.”
At least one of the Nicetown plaintiffs was unaware of the SEPTA Board’s proposal to build the power plant until after the vote had taken place, and none had found out about the plant through SEPTA. Two of the plaintiffs have illnesses that would likely be exacerbated by the plant, including heart problems and respiratory illness, and one plaintiff has grandchildren with asthma.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Nicetown has more fine particulate pollution than 78% of neighborhoods around the country. This, in part, has resulted in a nearly 1 in 3 childhood asthma rate for zip code 19140. A natural gas power plant in Nicetown means a local increase in nitrogen oxides (NOx), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), particulate matter and ultrafine particulate matter — all of which have immediate consequences for human health.
If the court finds in favor of 350 Philadelphia et al., SEPTA Board’s vote will be invalidated and the Board will be forced to either cancel the project or take a new vote.
350 Philadelphia is affiliated with 350.org, a nonprofit focused on building a global climate movement through online campaigns, grassroots organizing, and mass public actions coordinated by a network active in over 188 countries.
Similarly, 350 Philadelphia promotes a rapid and just transition from the use of coal, oil, and gas, to clean renewable energy across the Philadelphia area.