Teresa Hill knew something was wrong at her Southwest Philadelphia home as soon as she moved in. But she didn't know what it was at first.
"We found a beautiful house … But as soon as we got out of the car, we started choking. We couldn't breathe," said Hill of two of her grandchildren, aged 2 and 6 at the time, who both have asthma.
"Every time I went to the store, they couldn't get back. … When my grandson went up and down the stairs, he was done. He couldn't do anything more," she said. "But I didn't know about the refinery."
Hill, a member of Action United, was at City Hall Thursday along with members of Philly Thrive and AFSCME 1199 to deliver 1,000 petitions calling on Mayor Jim Kenney and City Council to prevent an expansion of the Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES) refinery in Southwest Philly as part of calls for the city to become an "energy hub."
Just the words "energy hub" received boos from the environmentalists, who oppose any expansion of the fossil fuels industry in the Philly area, and are planning a protest outside PES on May 7.
"The CEO of the South Philadelphia refinery wants to take advantage of our city's economics woes … and bring even more oil and natural gas into our city," said Zein Nakhoda, an organizer with Thrive Philly, refering to PES CEO Phil Rinaldi.
"It's a bad investment," Nakhoda said of expanding PES, pointing out that a larger refinery would rely on increased fracking operations. Meanwhile, fracking is slowing down across North America as oil prices are tanking worldwide.
"We can deal with the twin crises of economic hardship and climate change by investing in green jobs and renewable energy," Nakhoda said.
PES did not respond to a request for comment.
The words "energy hub" first started circulating after Philly City Council President Darrell Clarke pitched the concept after announcing that City Council would not allow former Mayor Nutter to sell the municipally-owned Philadelphia Gas Works for $1.86 billion to a private energy company.
Hill invited Clarke to come visit the neighborhood, from where she has moved. She pointed out that 70 percent of the students at her grandson's school have asthma.
"He should go door to door and see what it's like … You should be thinking about the people that live there," Hill said. "They shouldn't be putting all of these fuels and fumes into the air."
Clarke did not respond to a request for comment.
Hill said she knows that area's air quality is worse because her own breathing problems have improved since moving away, but worsen when she's back in the neighborhood canvassing for Action United.
"It's got to be the environment around there," she said.
Philly Thrive, Action United and other activists will be holding a "Right to Breathe" mobilization on May 7 at 1 p.m. outside PES at 28th Street and Passyunk Avenue.