By The Philly Public Record
- A diverse set of Philadelphia-based organizations have begun a wide-ranging campaign to defeat Mayor Nutter’s plan to privatize Philadelphia Gas Works, the city’s publicly owned gas utility.
The broad coalition includes unions, consumer groups, neighborhood associations, and environmental groups. The announcement follows on the heels of Mayor Michael Nutter’s selection of UIL Holdings Corp. as the winning bidder for the utility. The group has targeted the upcoming Mar. 13 City Council meeting as its first coordinated action.
“This deal spells disaster on many levels,” said Sam Bernhardt, senior Pennsylvania organizer for Food & Water Watch. “It would increase consumers’ gas bills, leave many Philadelphians out in the cold, and could open the door for a liquefied natural-gas export facility in Philadelphia, encouraging fracking and endangering the public safety of Philadelphians.”
Stan Shapiro, vice-chair of Neighborhood Networks, noted, “The inherent corruption in this deal is highlighted by who put it together: JP Morgan. There is probably no financial firm in the world that has been fined so often or so much for financial wrongdoing as JP Morgan. In one case the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission fined a JP Morgan subsidiary $410 million in penalties and disgorgement for manipulating electricity markets in California and the Midwest.
“It is beyond preposterous for the City to have ever expected that this firm could be an ‘honest broker’ in working on anything involving the vital City utility that is PGW. The deal that it orchestrated must be rejected.”
Utility Workers Union of America Local 686 spokesman Frank Keel ripped the proposed sales as “a terrible development for the 1,150 active and 2,000 retired members of UWUA Local 686 and the city’s poor and elderly on fixed incomes. Whichever private entity ultimately wins PGW will never be able to match the existing low-income assistance program that protects the city’s poor. There also is no way a private entity’s workforce will have the same level of training and experience as our union members.”
Keel dispelled rumors the union was leaning toward the sale. “There was no understanding, no handshake agreement, no signed agreement between Local 686 and any of the bidders for PGW. We have been against the sale of PGW from the outset and nothing has changed,” he insisted.
Chris Robinson, a leader of the Green Party of Philadelphia, pointed out, “The Green Party has historically been opposed to privatization, the process of transferring ownership of a public service or property from the government to a for-profit business or to a nonprofit organization.
“Selling off the gas works is a huge mistake that flies in the face of good government,” said Tracy Carluccio, associate director of Delaware Riverkeeper Network. “Public-policy decisions such as not buying dirty fracked gas or not expanding polluting facilities such as the liquefied natural-gas plant will no longer be driven by the elected City Council who are accountable to Philadelphians but be in the hands of an out-of-reach company serving their bottom line. This sale will hurt Philadelphia and, in turn, hurt regional environmental quality, including the Delaware River.”