City Hall: Environmental Committee Approves Three Bills

The Environmental Committee of Philadelphia City Council approved three bills on Oct. 2, 2019, that will be heard at the next general meeting of council. The bills concern environmental maintenance of large buildings, phasing out heavy fuel oils, and establishing compensation for a proposed environmental committee. 

Energy and Water System Tune-ups

Francine Locke, the director of Sustainability and Green Schools for the School District of Philadelphia, testified that while the school district views the stipulations of Bill 190600 favorably, there are some lingering questions for financing the tune-ups at an estimated cost of $1.1 million to $2.3 million for 157 buildings.

“Because 80% of the existing citywide carbon footprint is from buildings, and the district is the second largest building owner in the city, the district realizes the importance of conducting tune-ups to ensure that existing systems are operating efficiently and to bring our buildings up to a state of good repair to improve energy performance,” Locke said.

Councilmember Helen Gym questioned whether the district would comply with the mandate due to the lack of allocated funds needed to provide the tune-ups.

“The cost savings would be more than double, potentially triple once you got them underway” Gym said. “So are you saying the district will comply with the mandate, or are you not saying that?”

Locke said that the school district would work closely with the Office of Sustainability to find a way to comply with the regulation, particularly in finding assessors who would do the work and provide workable recommendations.

Councilmember Blondell Reynolds-Brown said there are significant pressures on the school district in many different areas, acknowledging it cannot always respond to every issue immediately.

“I am very sensitive to the fact, given the other pressures and demands on the district, there is the commitment to move to that end,” Reynolds-Brown said, “and the awareness that you cannot do that today because you have other priorities in place that you need to honor.”

When asked by Gym if the school district could achieve triple the amount of savings through these tune-ups, and if this could be considered an investment, Locke said the district needs the cost of the tune-ups up front in order to realize any energy cost savings.

Rich Freeh, senior program manager for the Office of Sustainability, said the process by which the cost savings estimates were derived came from a pilot project the City developed with the Juvenile Justice Center.

“We scaled up the numbers from the Juvenile Justice Center pilot and said that if we realized the same savings across the 150 or so schools at the district that would be required to comply, we would be able to see that $3 million estimated annual cost savings,” Freeh said.

Freeh said the tune-ups can happen within six months, and significant savings will be realized almost immediately.

Phasing Out Heavy Oils

Reynolds-Brown said Bill 190600 phases out the use of heavy fuel oils, the burning of which are linked to asthma, heart disease, and lung disease.

“In 2011, New York City began to phase out the use of heavy oils, which contributed to 86% of soot pollution in (that) city,” Reynolds-Brown said.

Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said the bill would reduce air pollution and protect public health. Fuel oils are used to heat buildings and are assigned numbers (one through six) based on their weight, with higher numbers indicating heavier oils.

“No. 4 and heavier oils contain high amounts of sulfur and other impurities that when burned produce higher levels of soot pollution known as particulate matter, or PM 2.5, as well as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and heavy metals such as nickel and mercury,” Farley said.

Farley said not only are these pollutants hazardous to health, but they also contribute to the formation of ozone, which is also a health hazard.

“In addition, these emissions affect the ability of Philadelphia to attain and maintain national standards for air quality,” Farley said. “Currently, Philadelphia code limits the sulfur content of No. 2 fuel oil sold, stored, and used in Philadelphia. (This bill) would amend this section of the law to prohibit the burning of Nos. four, five, and six heavy fuel oil.”

Farley said facilities that have already purchased these heavy oils would have until July 1, 2024, to use these stocks. There are few facilities that use these oils and, due to current fuel costs, those that do would be likely to save money by switching to natural gas or other less-polluting energy sources.

Supporters of the proposed environmental legislation attended the hearing.

Environmental Justice Advisory Committee

Reynolds-Brown said the Environmental Justice Advisory Committee formed from the observation that those who were testifying and showing interest at Environmental Committee hearings were too often not reflective of the community.

“If we’re serious about bringing others along, particularly those communities who are most disenfranchised when it comes to environmental issues, it was our view that we needed to create an intentional structure that brings them to the table,” Reynolds-Brown said.

The committee will become active in 2020, Reynolds-Brown said, because there is a process by which prospective individuals will be identified.

“It’s not unusual to give the formation of a new commission six to 12 months lead-time before it goes into full effect,” Reynolds-Brown said.

Bill 190703 allocates $40 in compensation for each member of the committee per meeting, not to exceed $240 in any year.


Bill 190600 would require owners of certain large buildings to conduct what the bill refers to as “tune-ups” of energy and waters systems.

Bill 190636 would revise standards for grades and sulfur content of commercial fuel oil.

Bill 190703 would provide compensation to members of the Environmental Justice Advisory Committee and amend details of the committee with respect to membership, timing, and reporting.

Lawrence McGlynn is a recent graduate of Temple University’s Klein College of Media and Communication where he earned a Master’s in Journalism. For the next several months he will be reporting out of City Hall on various council and committee meetings, the city’s budget, and how these impact the daily lives of Philadelphians.

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