Chester eyed for site of major LNG export terminal

In a February 2021 email sent to Doweary, James said he met with Gov. Tom Wolf and other members of his administration.

“…We were fortunate to meet with Governor Tom Wolf, Secretary Dennis Davin, Denise Brinley, and key members of the DCED on numerous occasions to disclose and discuss the proposition of developing, permitting and constructing the project in Pennsylvania, specifically the City of Chester,” James wrote in the email.

In a statement to WHYY News, a spokesperson for Wolf said the administration was involved in conversations beginning in 2016 with Penn America to get a grasp of the plans as it would do with any number of projects.

“The administration specifically met with the company once in 2016,” Elizabeth Rementer, Wolf’s press secretary said in a statement. “While the staff that were involved with these discussions have moved on from the administration, based on our review it does not appear that the administration was ever asked for or made any commitment of support to the project, which remains in a development phase.”

Neither Davin nor Brinley responded to a WHYY News request for comment. Both have left the Wolf Administration for the private sector. A spokesperson for the DCED told WHYY News that Acting Secretary Neil Weaver was not aware of any plans for a facility.

James also discussed in emails to Doweary the creation of a nonprofit entity that he said would benefit Chester residents.

“I would also like to disclose the mission of the Penn America Foundation 501(c)(3), a public charity established and solely focused on the City of Chester nurturing education programs, developing and mentoring local entrepreneurism and economic development, and initiatives focused on Chester’s energy insecurity and the environmental challenges,” James wrote.

Penn America Foundation has not had any notable charitable activity to date.

James refers in emails to a “Chester Team” that includes John Linder, the former mayor of Chester who served from 2012 to 2016, James Turner, the city’s former director of economic development, and Travis Thomas, the city’s former fire commissioner. Current Chester Mayor Thaddeus Kirkland did not respond to a request for comment about the proposal.

A handful of individuals and entities currently and previously associated with Penn America LNG donated a combined $5,000 to Chester Mayor Thaddeus Kirkland’s campaigns since 2018. The donations came from former president Cedric Burgher, former vice president Christopher Bellah, Penn America’s current chief development officer Howard Candelet, and current vice president Konstantin Dimitropoulos.

The lobbyist for Penn America Energy, Malady & Wooten, donated $1,000 to Kirkland’s campaign in May 2021.

‘Chester Team’ member wants City to capitalize on LNG, environmentalists have a different view of the future

Former Mayor Linder, a member of the “Chester team,” says he remembers meeting with Penn America LNG near the end of his term in 2016. He is now the chief executive officer of a nonprofit organization he created, the Riverside Futures Regional Community Development Corporation, an organization he says is solely dedicated to fostering opportunities for community members to benefit from the proposed LNG plant.

On April 5, 2021, several days after Doweary met with Penn America representatives, Linder sent Doweary an email. It contained a letter that Riverside Futures sent to the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission advocating for LNG opportunities in Chester and Philadelphia.

Linder and his cousin Garland Thompson, a former Philadelphia Inquirer reporter and the executive vice president of Riverside Futures, have made the pitch that a new LNG plant would be a boon to Chester’s local economy and create jobs. In a blog post and a letter sent to the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, the two wrote that possibilities will arise through the “exploitation of Pennsylvania’s Marcellus and Utica Shale fields.”

Former Chester Mayor John Linder and Garland Thompson stand next to a sign that reads Riverside Futures.
Former Chester Mayor John Linder  (left)and Garland Thompson believe that Riverside Futures is the key to fostering Chester’s local economy and creating new jobs. (Kenny Cooper/WHYY)

“To get there, the Philadelphia region’s municipal leaders have to begin demonstrating the political courage to tell the region’s residents on both sides of the Delaware the practical truth about why natural-gas fired energy really is the fuel of future progress, despite all the wrong-headedly sincere claims some activist groups have made about the world-saving capability of so-called clean-energy programs to power this region’s and this nation’s future economic growth,” the letter read.

Although the letter says “climate change is happening,” they take aim at environmental groups like the Clean Air Council, Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Penn Future, and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network as well as “Delaware Valley media workers” like the Philadelphia Inquirer Editorial Board for trying to keep “gas reserves in the ground.”

“It is long past time the leaders of Greater Philadelphia recognize the real opportunities lying in wait for a city and a region that could and should serve as the most convenient, most economical port for the export of Shale Crescent LNG, when the best fields producing that gas lie less than 200 miles to the northwest in the Endless Mountains region of Pennsylvania, producing cargoes that should properly be headed to North Atlantic and West African ports from Philadelphia, not from Corpus Christi,” the letter read.

Linder and Gardner say they are not getting paid by Penn America LNG. Garland wants Riverside Futures to lead an LNG job apprenticeship program.

Former Chester Mayor John Linder stands next to Garland Thompson in front of a gray brick building.
Former Chester Mayor John Linder (left) and Garland Thompson both say they had been exploring liquefied natural gas before Penn America reached out. (Kenny Cooper/WHYY)

“Those jobs pay hundreds of thousands of dollars apiece for an apprenticeship or a two-year community college degree. Lots and lots of people in Chester could make that kind of money and have a nice lifestyle,” Garland said.

Ultimately, Linder said that community leaders like Mayfield of CRCQL are right: Chester has an environmental racism problem. But he says Mayfield is the one who is uninformed.

“It’s good to have people who are on point. [Mayfield] is always on point. But on this one, we got to get educated and I’m willing to sit down with them,” Linder said.

Garland emphasized that there is “no such thing as an easy answer to environmental problems.”

Mayfield, of CRCQL, says all of this reflects a “good ol’ boy system” that operates at the expense of the residents.

“These are politicians,” she said. “We are residents. They’re not scientists. They are so ignorant to these types of processes. They don’t make themselves educated to know what the process is, the harm that it can cause, the benefits, and the risks,” Mayfield said.

The Delaware Riverkeeper’s Maya van Rossum was also unaware of the project before reporters reached out to her. She called Linder’s claims that natural gas is the “fossil fuel of the future” a false climate solution. “You can’t make fracking safe,” she said. “There is no pathway for LNG exports to be part of the climate solution.”

The Delaware Riverkeeper Network is actively fighting the proposed LNG liquefaction plant in Wyalusing and its associated export terminal across the river in Gibbstown, NJ. Van Rossum worries that once one is approved by federal regulators, then the industry will want to use the Delaware River as they do the Gulf Coast, building LNG export facilities along its shores as a quick route to Europe.

“This is what we are seeing consistently in Pennsylvania when it comes to the fossil fuel industry,” she said. “They are going behind closed doors at the local and state level and cutting secret deals and it’s a go before the people even hear about it. And Penn America should be worried about Delaware Riverkeeper opposition because we will be proactively opposed to this project.”

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