History and Background
The Chester Environmental Partnership was formed by Reverend Horace Strand in 2005, and its work has been key to many recent environmental improvements in Chester. In the early 1990s, Rev. Strand of the Faith Temple Holy Church founded Chester Residents Concerned for Quality Living (CRCQL) and became a major figure in the suit Chester Residents Concerned for Quality Living v. Seif, in which CRCQL argued that Pennsylvania's environmental agency permitting decisions had violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act by allowing the clustering of environmentally unfriendly facilities in Chester. The case went to the US Supreme Court. Through such efforts it became clear that, although communities could make environmental gains through litigation, such gains were hard fought and often occurred long after the fact of the environmental harms.
In 2005, recognizing a greater potential to improve health and environment through cooperative action, Rev. Strand founded CEP as an environmental initiative of the Faith Temple Holy Church. The partnership is intended to include all necessary parties to identify sources of toxics affecting Chester residents, set priorities, and develop solutions. The CEP's collaborative stakeholder group meets every other month, usually at the Faith Temple Holy Church, but also at Industrial facilities in Chester, including waste processing and incineration facilities.
CEP’s accomplishments include creating and administering the 2006 Chester Environmental Partnership Survey, which focused on an area in close proximity to many waste processing facilities on Chester's riverfront. The survey identified current health and safety issues and the wishes of the community in regard to those conditions. Of great local significance, the partnership is currently working to ensure the safe relocation of interested families from a number of the most impacted homes identified in the survey area.
CEP also organized the 2006 Chester Leadership Meeting between the mayor, city, state, and federal officials, and key businesses and organizations for broad discussions about how to achieve positive improvements for the city. More recently, the CEP has heard a series of presentations from successful programs in Maryland and Delaware where community, local and federal agencies have collaborated in planning new developments such as those anticipated in Chester.
The last two CEP 2008 meetings of CEP were attended by the Director and senior officials of the Community Development Program of the PA Department of Community and Economic Development (PA DCED), after the State’s decision to invest $47 million in the Rivertown at Chester Project (to include a sports stadium, new stores and an exposition center).
In 2009, CEP collaborated with the Delaware Riverkeeper in successfully urging that a wastewater treatment permit modification, which would have allowed millions of gallons of wastewater from Marcellus Shale extraction activities to be trucked to Chester for disposal, be rescinded. The modification had been granted despite the fact that (a) the treatment facility lacked the technology and equipment to effectively treat such wastewater, and (b) the community had not been informed of the proposed modification and had not had the opportunity to offer public comment before the approval. In an almost unprecedented decision, the Secretary of DEP rescinded the approval.
In Summer 2010, CEP organized and presented its first environmental justice conference, featuring keynote speakers such as the then-Secretary of Pennsylania's Department of Environmental Protection and the Chair of the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission.
Also in 2010, the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia (PILCOP) and CEP partnered on a successful proposal for a Level 1 CARE (Community Action for a Renewed Environment) grant administered by the U.S. EPA. Work on the project began in late 2010. CEP and PILCOP are presently continuing the important work under the Level 1 CARE workplan, which involves strengthening CEP as an organization, working with the community to identify the environmental risks and concerns affecting Chester, and meeting with the community to rank the identified risks and develop a consensus prioritization for future risk-reduction projects.