How Philly’s 4 new City Council members plan to address trash, transit, and trees

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2024 brings four new faces to Philadelphia City Council.

Their first terms, ending in 2028, will be a key time for reducing the city’s planet-warming emissions, bolstering the city’s resilience to the mounting effects of climate change, and tackling persistent problems like unequal tree cover and illegal dumping.

WHYY News interviewed incoming City Councilmembers Nicolas O’Rourke, Nina Ahmad, Rue Landau, and Jeffery “Jay” Young about their plans.

“We’re in an emergency place,” said Landau, who wants the city to reach carbon neutrality by 2035 — 15 years ahead of the 2050 goal that Mayor Jim Kenney committed to. “We’ve got to take emergency, immediate actions.”

Philadelphia, Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

Natural gas and PGW’s future

Several of the incoming council members want to see the city-owned natural gas utility, Philadelphia Gas Works, transition to a business model that’s not centered around planet-warming fossil fuels.

Natural gas is the top source of climate pollution from Philly’s residential buildings, according to the city’s latest inventory, which measured greenhouse gas emissions in 2019.

PGW released a “diversification study” in 2021 that recommended further study of three potential paths forward for the utility: geothermal energy; expanded weatherization; and harvesting landfill or sewer gas. Last year, the utility included money in its budget for a geothermal energy feasibility study. But many see PGW as moving too slowly, as it continues to invest in replacing old natural gas pipelines.

PGW is under pressure to decarbonize — not an easy task for a company that provides fossil fuel to heat the majority of the city’s commercial and residential buildings. Vicinity, on the other hand, says it has a good solution to help Philadelphia reach its climate goals: decarbonize all the buildings within the current steam loop.(Nathaniel Hamilton/Newsworks.org)

Ahmad wants PGW to look at ways to be more “environmentally friendly,” with policies that don’t contradict the city’s 2050 net-zero commitment. O’Rourke wants the utility to come up with budgets and business plans that match the city’s goals for phasing out fossil fuels, with “transparent processes that allow full public participation.” Landau wants to see a geothermal network built in Philly to heat and cool homes using the stable temperature underground — a process she says would create jobs.

  • January 1, 2024
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