BREAKING NEWS:The Philadelphia Gas Commission greenlights $19 million for additional fossil fuel infrastructure.

The Philadelphia Gas Commission approved $19.3 million for new natural gas hookups and related infrastructure this week as part of Philadelphia Gas Works’ $194.3 million capital budget for the upcoming 2025 fiscal year. The move raised the ire of climate activists who say it’s in conflict with the city achieving its climate goals, which includes net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
“March was the hottest March on record and the last 10 months were all the hottest 10 months on record,” said Mitch Chanin, a member of the climate justice group POWER Interfaith and a PGW customer. “So we’re in the middle of a climate emergency. The city of Philadelphia now has a commitment to being carbon neutral, meaning no use of fossil fuels by 2050.”
Chanin spoke during a meeting Tuesday after the Gas Commission voted unanimously to approve the funds to build new gas distribution lines to serve new customers.
PGW is the largest municipally owned gas utility in the country. Both its operating and capital budgets are approved by the Philadelphia Gas Commission, whose members are appointed by the mayor and City Council. A fifth member is the current city controller. Philadelphia Facilities Management Corp. is a nonprofit contracted by the city to oversee the day-to-day management of PGW. PFMC’s members are appointed by the mayor.
The mayor’s office remained silent when asked about balancing the city’s climate objectives with the expansion of natural gas infrastructure.
In what is typically a budgetary process that gains little public attention, the group tried to challenge PGW’s priorities this year through legal means. By intervening in the budget review process, POWER argued that PGW is required by city law to do a cost-benefit analysis of infrastructure expansion to insure a positive return on investment. POWER said the law requires this be done before the Gas Commission’s budgetary review and approval process, which should be transparent and open to public review.

“This is critical because PGW’s capital spending has significant impacts on affordability and climate change,” said Devin McDougall, an attorney with the environmental law firm Earthjustice, who represents the climate justice group.
McDougall made the group’s case ahead of the vote to approve the capital budget. He argued that expanding the city’s natural gas infrastructure would increase rates among a population that already has some of the highest “energy burden” in the country, meaning a population of ratepayers who pay a large part of their income to heat their homes.

“Additionally, the more PGW expands its distribution infrastructure, the more expensive it will become for the city to achieve its commitment to decarbonization by 2050, and the harder it will become for the city to protect its most vulnerable residents from climate impacts that will grow in severity as greenhouse gas emissions increase,” McDougall said.
POWER has said in the past that PGW needs to shift to a new business model that could include renewables or render itself obsolete.

“Fossil fuels are already bringing us heat waves, drought, crop failures, rising food prices… and lawsuits against the fossil fuel industry have begun,” said Nadine Young, a member of POWER and retired finance attorney who also spoke at the meeting. “Companies will suffer crippling liability for all of this harm. Meanwhile, costs of [renewables are] dropping and former ratepayers are telling their neighbors about their new heat pumps and induction stoves. And yet PGW plans to expand its infrastructure for new gas business.
Evan Urbania, a Philadelphia Gas Commissioner appointed by former Mayor Jim Kenney in 2022, criticized POWER’s interpretation of the city’s mandate for PGW to conduct a cost-benefit analysis before expanding infrastructure. Urbania argued that POWER’s stance overly restricts expansion efforts, suggesting it aims to hinder new load additions. Additionally, he asserted that requiring a cost-benefit analysis beforehand would essentially stifle load growth by defunding it.

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