In a February 2021 email sent to Doweary, James said he met with Governor Tom Wolf and other members of his administration.
“…We have had the good fortune to meet with Governor Tom Wolf, Secretary Dennis Davin, Denise Brinley and key DCED members on numerous occasions to disclose and discuss the proposal to develop, license and build 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 figure out the plans as it would 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 staff involved in these discussions have left administration, based on our review, it does not appear that administration has ever been approached or committed to supporting the project, which remains in a development phase. “
Neither Davin nor Brinley responded to a WHYY News request for comment. Both left the Wolf administration for the private sector. A DCED spokesperson told WHYY News that Acting Secretary Neil Weaver was not aware of any plans for the facility.
James also discussed in emails to Doweary the creation of a non-profit entity which 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 created and solely focused on the city of Chester, which promotes education programs, develops and mentors local entrepreneurship and economic development, and initiatives focused on Chester’s energy insecurity and environmental challenges,” James wrote.
The Penn America Foundation has had no 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 marshal. Chester’s current mayor, Thaddeus Kirkland, did not respond to a request for comment on the proposal.
A handful of individuals and entities currently and previously associated with Penn America LNG have donated a total of $5,000 to Chester Mayor Thaddeus Kirkland’s campaigns since 2018. The donations came from former President Cedric Burgher, former vice president Christopher Bellah, current Penn America chief development officer Howard Candelet. , and the current vice-president Konstantin Dimitropoulos.
Penn America Energy lobbyist Malady & Wooten donated $1,000 to Kirkland’s campaign in May 2021.
Team Chester 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 Penn America LNG near the end of his term in 2016. He is now the chief executive of a nonprofit organization non-profit he founded, the Riverside Futures Regional Community Development Corporation, an organization he says is dedicated to fostering Chester’s economic development through LNG and petrochemicals.
On April 5, 2021, several days after Doweary met with representatives from Penn America, Linder emailed Doweary. It contained a letter that Riverside Futures sent to the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission advocating for petrochemicals, specifically LNG in Chester and Philadelphia.
Linder and his cousin Garland Thompson, a former Philadelphia Inquirer reporter and executive vice president of Riverside Futures, said a new LNG plant would be a boon to Chester’s local economy and create jobs. In a blog post and letter sent to the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, the two wrote that opportunities will arise through “mining the Marcellus and Utica Shale fields in Pennsylvania.”
“To make this happen, city leaders in the Philadelphia area must begin to muster the political courage to tell area residents on both sides of Delaware the practical truth about why natural gas power is truly the fuel for future progress, despite all the wrongs – sincere and headstrong assertions that some activist groups have made about the global economy capability of so-called clean energy programs to fuel the future economic growth of this region and this nation,” the letter read.
Although the letter says “climate change is happening,” they target environmental groups like the Clean Air Council, Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Penn Future, and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network as well as “media workers from the Delaware Valley” as the editorial board of the Philadelphia Inquirer for attempting to keep “gas reserves in the ground.”
“It is high time that leaders in Greater Philadelphia recognize the real opportunities that lie in wait for a city and region that could and should serve as the most convenient and economical port for the export of Shale Crescent LNG, when the best fields producing this gas is found less than 200 miles to the northwest in the Endless Mountain region of Pennsylvania, producing cargo that should be properly directed to North Atlantic and West African ports from Philadelphia , and not since Corpus Christi,” the letter read.
Linder and Gardner say they are not paid by Penn America LNG. Thompson wants Riverside Futures to run an apprenticeship program in LNG and petrochemicals.
- Former Chester mayor John Linder (left) and Garland Thompson both said they had explored liquefied natural gas before Penn America contacted them. (Kenny Cooper/WHY)
“These jobs pay hundreds of thousands of dollars each for a two-year apprenticeship or college degree. A lot of people in Chester could make that kind of money and have a nice lifestyle,” Thompson said.
Ultimately, Linder said community leaders like CRCQL’s Mayfield were right: Chester has a problem with environmental racism. But he says Mayfield is the uninformed one.
“It’s good to have people who are on point. [Mayfield] is always on point. But on this one we have to educate ourselves and I’m willing to sit with them,” Linder said.
Thompson stressed that there are “no easy answers to environmental issues.”
Mayfield of the CRCQL says it all reflects a “good old system” that works at the expense of residents.
“They are politicians,” she said. “We are residents. They are not scientists. They are so ignorant of these types of processes. They don’t educate themselves on what the process is, the harms it can cause, the benefits and the risks,” Mayfield said.
Maya van Rossum of the Delaware Riverkeeper was also unaware of the project until reporters contacted her. She called Linder’s claims that natural gas is the “fossil fuel of the future” a false climate solution. “You can’t secure fracking,” she said. “There is no way for LNG exports to be part of the climate solution.”
The Delaware Riverkeeper Network is actively fighting the proposed LNG liquefaction plant at Wyalusing and its associated export terminal across the river in Gibbstown, NJ. Van Rossum fears that once one is approved by federal regulators, industry will want to use the Delaware River like it does on the Gulf Coast, building LNG export facilities along it. its shores as a fast track to Europe.
“That’s what we see regularly in Pennsylvania when it comes to the fossil fuel industry,” she said. “They’re going behind closed doors at the local and state level and making secret deals and it’s a trial run before people even hear about it. And Penn America should be concerned about opposition from the Delaware Riverkeeper because we will be proactively opposing this project.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story stated that Riverside Futures was dedicated to promoting opportunities at Penn LNG’s proposed plant. Garland Thompson says the nonprofit is dedicated to all petrochemical opportunities.