Three dozen city residents and environmental activists asked Philadelphia port officials Tuesday to disqualify the Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery from expanding operations at the proposed Southport marine terminal at the Navy Yard.
In an emotional outpouring, Maxine McCleary said her family has lived near the refinery on West Passyunk Avenue "for decades" and four of her nine siblings died from respiratory cancer.
"I have respiratory problems myself," McCleary told the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority board at its monthly meeting. "My little boy, 10 years old now, has had asthma since he was born.
"We are here today because we think all Philadelphians have the right to breathe," she said.
The former Sunoco refinery complex, purchased in 2012 by Philadelphia Energy Solutions, has a "long history of violations of the federal Clean Air Act," McCleary said. "Companies that are not in keeping with the law should not be given public land to expand."
Philadelphia Energy Solutions said it did not have a comment.
Six groups are vying to build maritime-related projects on the 195 vacant acres at the eastern end of the Navy Yard, known as Southport.
The PRPA, a state agency that owns the land and plans to lease it, has asked the six, including the oil refinery - the largest on the East Coast - to submit detailed financial and development plans by the end of August.
Southport, the city's first major maritime expansion in 50 years, includes 120 empty waterfront acres on the Delaware River just south of the Walt Whitman Bridge, 75 acres around an old seaplane hangar at the Navy Yard, and the north berth of Pier 124 on the Delaware.
Philadelphia Energy Solutions submitted a tentative proposal in January to build an oil import/export facility on the land. Phase 1 would be four 250,000-barrel tanks for storing crude and four 250,000-barrel tanks for storing gasoline and diesel. PES would build a "buoyed dock" to off-load and load ships. Large pumps and piping would connect the facility to the South Philadelphia refinery.
Phase 2 would be two additional 250,000-barrel tanks for storing crude for export.
Port authority board chairman Gerard "Jerry" Sweeney responded that the PRPA has not received final proposals yet, and when the proposals come in, "the review process will have a heavy weighting on community input."
"We are certainly focused on the objective of growing jobs in the city and for the region," Sweeney said.
Christine Dolle, a mother of 5-year-old twins and affiliated with Moms Clean Air Force, said: "We don't have to sacrifice our health to have jobs. We've had three days in a row of air-quality alerts in Philadelphia.
"What that means, according to the National Weather Service, is it was unhealthy for me to let my kids go out and play," she said. "For some children, it was medically impossible to go out and play because they have asthma."
Clergy and other members of the community groups ACTION United and the Green Justice Philly coalition said the Philadelphia refinery had been cited by the Environmental Protection Agency for "significant noncompliance" with federal clean-air standards and was "responsible for over two-thirds of toxic industrial emissions in the city."
"People of color and low-income residents are disproportionately affected by these violations," the groups said. "Within a one-mile radius of the refinery, 71 percent are people of color and 32 percent are below the poverty line."
Proposed uses for Southport include a traditional marine terminal with ship berths to handle container and other cargoes, an energy port, warehouses, and automobile-processing and storage. Thousands of Hyundai and Kia vehicles arrive here annually on ships from South Korea, headed to dealer showrooms.
Gov. Wolf has said the number of potential jobs created from Southport would depend on the type of development.
If Southport is developed entirely as an energy terminal, he said, up to 590 jobs could be created. If the site is developed completely for a "nonenergy use," Wolf said, up to 3,720 jobs could be created.