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June 06, 2013

Report Back: Tuesday's Delaware City Refinery Public Hearing

DE tar sands hearing
On Tuesday, June 4, I attended my first public hearing at the Delaware City Fire House to discuss the renewal of the Delaware City Refinery's Title V Clean Air Act Permit, a motion that would allow the refinery to incorporate the permits for new units - units that were built to accommodate oil from tar sands - into the Title V permit.

Owned by PBF Energy, one of the country's largest petroleum refining companies, the Delaware City Refinery has recently begun processing heavy Canadian tar sands, the refining of which has been proven to emit higher levels of toxic pollution than that of conventional crude oil.

JennaI grew up in a suburb above Philadelphia, not very far from the Delaware refinery, and I'm proud to call this area my home. We have more green space in this region than in many other areas of the Northeast. We get to enjoy all four seasons, as well as a vastly divergent collection of trees and wildlife. For this reason, it saddens me to know that the decision to process tar sands can only damage the area and the health of those who live in it.

The field in front of the firehouse was divided between those in support of the permit renewal and those against it. I could feel the hot stares of the "other side" as I passed the oil refinery workers, clad in their union t-shirts, and joined the Sierra Club members and environmental activists, dressed in blue to represent their dedication to clean skies. I felt frustrated that so many refinery supporters chose to carry small patriotic flags, implying that they were the only true Americans.

The debate between unregulated processing of tar sands and the utilization of cleaner fuel sources has nothing to do with patriotism. We are all American, and more importantly we are all breathing the same air and will suffer the same health effects if the practices of the Delaware Refinery become widespread throughout the East Coast.

Despite misconceptions spread by Delaware City Refinery that the Sierra Club's aim was to shut down the refinery, the goals of those against the Title V renewal mainly included better air monitoring, cooperation instead of intimidation, and an overall plan to reduce emissions instead of increasing them. To me, these sound like completely reasonable demands, especially in light of the fact that New Castle County, a neighboring town in Delaware, received an "F" in the American Lung Association's 2013 "State of the Air" report, indicating that air quality is already a pressing issue in the region.

At the actual hearing those in support of the permit said that hard-working citizens who don't deserve to have their jobs taken away. But those against the renewal framed themselves as concerned community members who don't want to live in an area where air is hazardous and oil companies are profiting from it. I wish those in support of the permit renewal had acknowledged that the goals of jobs and livable communities are not mutually exclusive.

If I choose to raise children in the area where I grew up, I want to be as comfortable letting them play outside as my parents were with me. The Delaware City residents who showed up to support clean skies on Tuesday exemplified the spirit that truly has the power to topple Big Oil by getting its community members involved, letting their voices be heard, and showing exactly what it means to engage in grassroots activism.

-- Jenna Overton, Beyond Oil intern

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