April: Comings & Goings

Environmental Groups See Bleak Outlook for Clean Water
A 16-state comparison and analysis by PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center gave Pennsylvania a grade of “F” when it comes to preventing lead in drinking water in the commonwealth’s schools. When 40 schools were recently tested in Philadelphia, 14 percent exceeded the EPA’s lead action level limit of 15 parts per billion.

Regionally, anti-fracking activists continue to organize, and on March 15, 183 organizations submitted a letter to the Delaware River Basin Commission calling for a permanent ban on fracking in the watershed. Almost 400 people demonstrated at the DRBC’s public meeting in reaction to news that the DRBC has been working with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to develop natural gas drilling regulations, which, if enacted, would lift the seven-year moratorium on drilling in the Delaware River Basin.

On the national front, commenting on federal-level water policy, PennEnvironment Deputy Director Adam Garber issued a statement in response to President Donald Trump’s late-February executive order instructing the Environmental Protection Agency to withdraw its defense of the “clean water rule”—which clarifies implementation of the Clean Water Act—in federal court:

“President Trump’s order turns the mission of the Environmental Protection Agency on its head,” Garber said. “Instead of protecting the drinking water sources for one in three Americans, he is telling the EPA to stop protecting these waters from polluters.”

PennFuture Partners to Advance Solar Energy, City Announces Energy Plan for Schools
PennFuture, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Department of Energy began a 30-month analysis and modeling project in early March to advance clean renewable energy in the state. Less than 1 percent of Pennsylvania’s energy is derived from solar power, but stakeholders are investigating how to expand in-state solar generation to 10 percent of sales by 2030; analysis will be posted to the Finding Pennsylvania’s Solar Future website.

The School District of Philadelphia announced March 20 that it could save $600 million over the next 20 years by cutting energy bills as it phases in energy-efficient practices in city-owned buildings and public schools. Officials at the district have identified $4.5 billion in needed repairs, which they hope to fund by working with the city’s Energy Development Authority to follow more sustainable practices when replacing roofs, windows, lighting and other systems.

City Council Approves Land Bank Strategic Plan for 2017
City Council has approved the Philadelphia Land Bank’s 2017 Strategic Plan, which analyzes market conditions and resident needs to identify opportunities where publicly owned land can support affordable and market rate housing, side yards and other green space, and business expansions. The plan includes a target for the acquisition of 1,650 privately owned tax-delinquent parcels over the next five years.

New Directors Named at Energy, Community Development and Theater Groups
The Energy Co-op, which provides clean energy options for Pennsylvania residents and businesses, has hired Damali Rhett as its new executive director. Rhett, an energy consultant, will lead the co-op in promoting sustainability and increasing membership for usage of its electricity, heating oil and renewable gas products.

New Kensington Community Development Corporation announced in March that Felix Torres-Colon is its next executive director. He previously served as director of program development at Saint Joseph’s Carpenter Society in Camden and was executive director of Neighborhood Housing Services of Baltimore.

In January, Theatre Philadelphia announced a new executive director, Leigh Goldenberg, who has worked with the Arden, Lantern, PlayPENN and Tiny Dynamite theater companies.

Greening and Nature Projects Gear Up
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation announced its commitment of $100 million toward a new waterfront park at Penn’s Landing—a “cap” over Interstate 95 from Chestnut to Walnut streets, Billy Penn reported. Mayor Jim Kenney said in February that the city would allocate $90 million for the estimated $225 million project.

“We have never met our potential when it comes to waterfront development,” said Mayor Kenney in an interview with PlanPhilly. “A lot of it has to do with a lot of the waterfront parcels being privately owned. But just concentrating on the central waterfront that we control, we’ve never maximized our potential. This will go a long way in doing that.”

Finally, the Schuylkill Center—in partnership with Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Parks and Recreation, the Department of Public Health and USDA Forest Service—plans a June launch for a pilot program, NaturePHL, to prescribe outdoor activity time to children and provide public information on access to the area’s parks.

NaturePHL is now fully funded to hire “nature navigators” to assist kids from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in maintaining active lifestyles.

Small Businesses Seek Creative Applicants for New Grant
Small-business consultancy Elysian Fields has partnered with Little Baby’s Ice Cream to establish a small “creative project grant” for funding Philadelphia-based, community-engaged works. Applications for the $1,000 grant, called Shared Interest, go live on elysianfields.com April 10 and will be accepted through noon on April 23. “Local creatives, artists, organizers, and thinkers of all kinds and at all career stages are encouraged to apply,” according to a press release.

Philly Among 10 Cities to Pilot Community-Led Civic Engagement Event
The Philadelphia Foundation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation will launch On the Table Philly on May 23, a forum designed to engage residents in an open dialogue about civic solutions for community issues. Ten cities were selected to pilot this year’s national expansion of the event, which was started by the Chicago Community Trust in 2014. Residents who register at onthetablephl.org in April will receive training and support materials to host an event. May 15 is the final deadline to register.