Philadelphia City Council Approves Controversial Natural Gas Plant

A march in Philadelphia against the gas plant.

A march in Philadelphia against the gas plant. Rachael Warriner/Shutterstock

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STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | New York eliminates religious vaccine exemptions … Florida governor considers garden regulation bill … Chicago mayor debuts new workers’ compensation plan.

A $60 million liquified natural gas facility will be built on city land in Philadelphia, under a deal agreed to by the Philadelphia City Council. Environmental groups objected to the proposal, largely on the grounds that it will contribute to climate change. With only four no votes, the public-private partnership plan passed, supported by labor unions, the private enterprises involved, and Philadelphia Gas Works. Craig White, head of Philadelphia Gas Works, spoke before the council. "This is a tremendous project in that it is a public-private partnership, it has very few carbon emissions and we have budgeted for a solar array that will make carbon emissions at that facility a net zero," White said. The plan was bitterly opposed by environmental advocates, including 16-year-old Sabirah Mahmud, who spoke against the proposal. "We are in a state of climate emergency and this bill takes us in the wrong direction. Our students and children do not deserve to have this plant. They do not deserve air quality to be at risk. They deserve a clean future," Mahmud said. Councilmember Derek Green, the bill’s sponsor, said that while Philadelphia should reduce its carbon emissions, the natural gas facility will provide a cleaner alternative to residents currently using diesel. He also mentioned that the new plant will help prevent utility rate hikes. “This gives us an opportunity to bring in revenue that’s not tied to ratepayers that allows us to do some additional creative ideas,” Green said. Councilmember Helen Gym, one of the four no votes, said that the city should focus on those creative ideas first, instead of building the plant. “I think it’s clear the city needs to move away from fossil fuels. We need to move, and we need to move quickly,” she said. [Philadelphia Inquirer; KYW News Radio; WHYY]

VACCINE EXEMPTIONS | New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill to end religious exemptions to vaccines in an effort to contain the measles outbreak that has plagued New York City. He signed the measure the same day the legislature passed it, and the law takes effect immediately. The state now joins four others that have eliminated religious exemptions—California, Maine, West Virginia, and Mississippi. "The science is crystal clear: Vaccines are safe, effective and the best way to keep our children safe. This administration has taken aggressive action to contain the measles outbreak, but given its scale, additional steps are needed to end this public health crisis," said Cuomo in a statement. State Sen. Brad Hoylman introduced the bill after more than 800 New Yorkers contracted measles in recent outbreaks. "We are dealing with a public health emergency that requires immediate action," he said. Anti-vaccination advocates made efforts to oppose the bill, which Dr. Oxiris Barbot, commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, called “insidious” and “just as challenging as the most contagious virus on the face of the earth.” [CNN; USA Herald; NewsDay]

GARDEN REGULATIONS | Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is considering a bill that would ban municipalities from regulating vegetable gardens in their own borders. The bill arose out of a 2013 dispute between a couple in Miami Shores who were threatened with $50 daily fines by their local government if they didn’t uproot their 17-year-old vegetable garden. Ari Bargil defended the couple in court and spoke about the necessity of such a bill. “What we have here is an instance where the State of Florida has decided to protect the liberty of all people from the infringement of local governments and that’s generally a good thing. Everybody should have the basic right to use their property peacefully and productively,” he said. The Florida League of Cities has asked the governor to veto the bill, and the mayor of Wellington, Anne Gerwig, spoke against it to the legislature. “Our residents ask us for help on these issues that are important to them and their quality of life, and if we’re preempted by the state, we’re left to not offer anything but ‘gee, I hope you live in an HOA,’” she said. The legislation would not affect rules imposed by homeowner associations. [WPTV; All Outdoor]

WORKERS’ COMPENSATION | Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot debuted her plan to reform the city’s $100 million per year workers’ compensation program, citing an audit that revealed poor management in the current system, which was run by Alderman Ed Burke. “The system that Ed Burke ran was ripe for corruption. A program of this size and significance has no business being controlled by a single member of the City Council,” said Lightfoot. Burke was recently indicted on 14 charges of corruption. Burke has maintained his innocence. The workers’ compensation system has 1,300 open claims, some of which date back several decades, costing taxpayers approximately $300 million. Laurence Msall of the Civic Federation said the structure of the program is antiquated, which led to taxpayers overpaying. “It was a throwback to an earlier time when the City Council controlled the workers’ comp program. Modern governments don’t have their legislative body managing very much. Today was a wonderful signal that it appears that the mayor is modernizing city government,” Msall said. [WGN; Chicago Tribune]

FUTURE CANDIDATE SANDERS? | Sarah Sanders left her position as White House Press Secretary last week, and President Trump tweeted shortly after that he hopes “she decides to run for Governor of Arkansas - she would be fantastic.” Sanders already has experience campaigning in Arkansas—in 2002, she served as the field director for her father’s gubernatorial reelection campaign in the state. The current Arkansas governor, Republican Asa Hutchinson, was re-elected in 2018 and is term limited, so he can’t run again in 2022. Two sources told CNN that Sanders is considering running for office. “I learned a long time ago never to rule anything out,” said Sanders.

[Newsweek; USA TODAY; Associated Press]

Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.

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