By Mike Dunn
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — About a dozen local activists delivered petitions today to members of City Council, urging the lawmakers to oppose Mayor Nutter’s plan to sell the Philadelphia Gas Works.
“It will bring nothing but hardship and misfortune to the people of Philadelphia,” said Madeline Schikomba of South Philadelphia, one of eleven community activists distributing reams of petitions signed by what she said were residents who fear the fallout of a PGW sale.
“We went out collecting more than a thousand signatures — written hand signatures — of people opposed to the sale of PGW,” she said today. “And that’s why we’re here, to let (Council president) Darrell Clarke and the rest of City Council know: we don’t want it sold!”
Nutter wants to sell the city-owned utility to a Connecticut firm called UIL for nearly $2 billion (see related story). The group of protesters believes that natural gas rates would escalate if PGW is sold and that relief for low-income families and senior citizens would end.
That’s not the case, according to the mayor’s deputy chief of staff, Suzanne Biemiller.
“These advocates are misinformed. The purchase agreement that the city signed with UIL guarantees that the senior-citizen discount and all low-income programs will continue under UIL ownership,” Biemiller said.
Moreover, Biemiller says, even the city’s ownership of PGW does not ward off rate increases.
“Rate increases and surcharges have increased by over $200 million over the last ten years under city ownership,” she noted. “We anticipate under UIL rates would not have to go up as much, because UIL will be regulated (by the state PUC) as a private investor utility.”
The activists scoff at such predictions.
“These private investors will cut off your gas without any feeling,” said Schikomba (third from left, in foreground of photo). “I keep telling people: the only green these people see when they buy anything — and that’s the one percent — is not the trees, and not the grass, it’s the almighty dollar.”
Council President Clarke accepted the group’s petitions. Council has hired a consultant to review both the details of the purchase agreement and the larger question of the best use for PGW (another related story).
The mayor says one-quarter of proceeds from the $1.86-billion sale would be invested in the struggling city workers’ pension fund.