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Environmental group launches advertising campaign attacking Shell

This image will be used in an advertising campaign designed to attack the Shell Chemicals ethane cracker plant in Potter Township. 

A Pittsburgh-based environmental organization has launched a widespread advertising campaign designed to attack Shell Chemicals’ ethane cracker plant in Potter Township.

PennFuture, an advocacy group that pushes for clean air and water, as well as a “clean energy economy” in Pennsylvania, will launch the advertising campaign Wednesday, calling it the Toxic Neighbor citizen engagement project.

The campaign includes a petition with a list of demands for lawmakers and business leaders, but will also include billboards and print advertisements urging residents to visit the website www.toxicneighborpgh.org.

Specifically, PennFuture is attacking the $1.65 billion tax-incentive package given in an effort to lure Shell here. Because the cracker plant is expected to create 600 full-time jobs, PennFuture said the subsidy is worth approximately $2.67 million per job.

The problem, according to the group, is that the region will only get air pollution as a return. While the campaign aims to raise public awareness, it will also go after public officials who need to be “held accountable for investing in dirty energy that degrades public health,” PennFuture CEO Larry J. Schweiger said.

The Shell plant, according to PennFuture, will emit a laundry list of pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, benzene and toluene, all of which exacerbate symptoms of asthma and can cause cancer.

The group didn’t mince words when talking about the effects that the plant could have on the region.

“It will be the largest source of volatile organic compounds in southwestern Pennsylvania,” PennFuture said in a news release.

As part of its campaign, PennFuture is demanding Shell “go beyond the inadequate limits in its current air and water permits” by “installing and maintaining best available control technologies” at the plant.

The group is also calling for a citizens advisory panel to hold Shell accountable, as well as railing against any future petrochemical plants that could be built in the region.

“The greater Pittsburgh region has too much to lose by handing over the keys to our future to big polluters,” the news release said. “We demand adequate safeguards for our health and an economy built on innovations that continue to improve our communities and environment.”

While the group did acknowledge that Shell recently agreed to install fence-line monitoring at the cracker site, PennFuture said that the additional safeguard “does not address toxic emissions that will affect public health.”

The group also attacked the state Department of Environmental Protection for issuing water-discharge permits to Shell, saying the company won’t be held to current regulations but rather outdated ones.

In a statement, Shell spokesman Joe Minnitte said the company has been “pleased with the broad base of support locally and throughout the state, including both Gov. (Tom) Wolf and Gov. (Tom) Corbett and local elected officials from both parties.”

In addition, he said Shell is doing its due diligence in terms of environmental safeguards.

“Our site will utilize the best available technology to control emissions along with fence line monitoring, with that data available to the public,” he said. “In addition, we worked with the commonwealth to offset emissions in a manner that will create better air quality over time.”

The Toxic Neighbor campaign will run from Oct. 4 through the end of November and will include targeted ads against Shell in the North Hills of Allegheny County.

In addition to targeted attacks against Shell, PennFuture is also launching a campaign against the Clairton Coke Works outside Pittsburgh. That ad campaign will mostly target the East End of Pittsburgh.

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