Remembering Refining: A Futures Beyond Refining Community Conversation

Kleinman Forum, Fisher Fine Arts Library


Billboard image showing four images. From left to right, a map of areas of interest at the former PES refinery, text quote from Mr Charles Reeves, botanical specimen for remediation plant, a photo of the refinery from the river

Remembering Refining: A Futures Beyond Refining Community Conversation
March 14, 2022
5:00-6:30pm est


The Penn Program in Environmental Humanities hosts a roundtable, "Remembering Refining," featuring environmental artist, Amy Balkin; environmental scientist, Peter DeCarlo (Johns Hopkins); Grays Ferry community experts, Charles and Tammy Reeves; and NY Times Magazine reporter, Linda Villarosa. Balkin’s "Area of Interest" billboard-as-visual essay provides the event's dramatic backdrop. The conversation, offered in person and online, will be moderated by Professor Bethany Wiggin, coordinator of the collaborative Futures Beyond Refining project, launched in the immediate aftermath of the Philadelphia refinery explosion in 2019.

Two years after the explosion, these speakers bring diverse reflections on how Philadelphia’s long history of refining is being remembered, remediated, redressed–or not. DeCarlo is an important voice urging the need then and now for more comprehensive air monitoring around refining infrastructure. Villarosa’s 2020 lead story, “Pollution Is Killing Black Americans: This Community Fought Back,” documented community-based work for environmental justice in the wake of refining. Balkin’s “Area of Interest” was created in response to community desires for a memorial to the losses incurred from refining. The Reeves family has worked over generations to ameliorate harms and create opportunities in a predominantly Black community directly next to the refinery’s old north yard. Now, the refinery lands, divided into eleven Areas of Interest, are undergoing remediation by legacy owner, Sunoco, and swift re-development by the site’s new owner, Hilco. Despite promises of “green” opportunities and a re-branding of the site as the “Bellwether District,” the developer intends to retain fossil fuel infrastructure. The site, adjacent to multiple residential areas, is ground zero for climate flooding in Philadelphia. 

This moderated conversation intends to prompt consideration of how the refinery and its legacies will be remembered–and how we can learn from and act on them. The Kleinman Forum space offers a rare opportunity to showcase Balkin’s 14x48 ft. visual essay on Penn’s campus after its display along I-76. In this time of accelerating climate change and rising carbon emissions, the need to address the inheritances of fossil fuel infrastructure is more important than ever. 

Co-sponsored by The Andrea Mitchell Center for the Study of Democracy. Share this event poster!

Register for virtual and in-person attendance here. 

To ensure the health and safety of everyone at Weitzman events, visitors to Penn’s campus are required to register in advance and complete PennOpen Pass on the day of the event. Members of the Penn community will be required to present a valid PennCard as well as PennOpen Pass for entry to this event. Please plan to arrive early. Double masking, or use of a KN95 or N95 mask, is required in Penn buildings. Zoom registration is also available. This event will be recorded and shared on PPEH's public channels. In person ticket capacity subject to change! Please check your email for updates.

Amy Balkin headshotAmy Balkin is an artist whose works address property relations, environmental justice, and equity in the context of climate change. Her projects and collaborations include A People's Archive of Sinking and Melting (Balkin et al.), Public Smog, and Invisible-5 (Balkin, Halbur, Stringfellow and Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice). These projects have been exhibited widely, including in The Normal (Talbot Rice Gallery), Land for Us All (Architekturzentrum Wien), the Vienna Biennale for Change 2021 (MAK), and dOCUMENTA(13), and published in Situation (Whitechapel/MIT), Decolonizing Nature (Sternberg), Critical Landscapes (UC Press) and Public Works (Mills). 

Peter DeCarlo headshot

Dr. Peter DeCarlo is an Associate Professor at Johns Hopkins University in the Department of Environmental Health and Engineering in the Whiting School of Engineering.  Dr. DeCarlo has a Ph.D. in Atmospheric Science, and a BS in Biochemistry. He uses state-of-the-art instrumentation to measure the chemical composition of particulates and gases in the air we breathe to better understand the intersection between energy, air quality, health, and climate impacts of human emissions. He has made air quality and climate related measurements from planes, trucks, and stationary sites all over the world to better understand direct emissions, sources, and subsequent chemical reactions of pollutants in the atmosphere. He also is interested in the intersection of science and policy and was an AAAS Science Policy Fellow at the US EPA. Dr. DeCarlo has served as a representative to the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), as an advisory board member for the Thirdhand Smoke Research Consortium and PA Physicians for Social Responsibility.  Dr. DeCarlo has co-authored over 100 peer reviewed publications and has been identified as a highly cited researcher by Clarivate Analytics.  

Charles Reeves headshot

Mr. Charles Reeves, Jr. has been a resident of Grays Ferry for sixty years. He is the Founding President of the Tasker-Morris Neighbors Association where he works to carry on the legacy of Mr. Kyle Shenandoah. He hopes this event results in greater awareness about how the refinery has affected the community over the last hundred years.

Tammy Reeves headshot

Mrs.Tammy Reeves is the Event Coordinator for Resident Action Committee 2 where she carries on the legacy of her father-in-law Mr. Charles Reeves, Sr. She has lived in the Grays Ferry community all her life and attended the James Alcorn elementary and Charles Youth Audenried schools.


Linda Villarosa headshot

Linda Villarosa is a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine where she covers race, inequality and public health. Her contribution to The New York Times’s 1619 Project, an essay on medical myths, was expanded and updated in the 2021 book The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story. She covered environmental justice in Philadelphia for her 2020 cover story The Refinery Next Door. Her book Under the Skin: The Hidden Toll of Racism on American Lives and on the Health of Our Nation will be published in June.

Linda is also a journalist in residence and associate professor at her alma mater the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism with a joint appointment at the City College of New York. She lives in Brooklyn.