Saying national security was at stake, Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) called Friday for congressional hearings into the shutdowns of local oil refineries and their potential effect on energy prices and the economy.
Joined by union officials, Casey also criticized ConocoPhillips and Sunoco Inc. as being less than forthcoming with their plans for the facilities in Philadelphia, Trainer, and Marcus Hook.
Casey spoke at a briefing held outside the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers union hall in Linwood, near the now-closed Trainer plant.
Casey said that given the potential for a spike in energy prices, particularly for home heating oil, the fate of the refineries is not just a local matter.
"This is ultimately a question about national security," he said.
"It's a loss of important capacity, and you have to then ask, where is the fuel going to come from?" John Felmy, chief economist for the American Petroleum Institute in Washington, said later in an interview. But, he added, "it's too soon to tell how that will work out.
Felmy said a variety of factors, including the expense of complying with Environmental Protection Agency regulations, had created "very bleak economic circumstances" for the industry. "The refiners just threw in the towel," he said.
In doing so, they have generated anger and resentment among workers and communities. Based on an Inquirer analysis, the plants represented about half the tax bases of Trainer and Marcus Hook.
"This has been their lives," said U.S. Rep. Patrick Meehan (R., Pa.). "There are guys getting ready to walk down the street and pick up unemployment checks."
"We come here today in outrage," said Patrick Eiding, president of the AFL-CIO Philadelphia Council, "and I think other people need to be outraged. We've been lied to."
Eiding alluded to Sun's surprise announcement in December that it was closing the Marcus Hook plant ahead of its July schedule. The company plans to shut down its Philadelphia plant in June if a buyer is not found.
"We have a lot of questions for the companies that they are not answering," said Casey.
Sun spokesman Thomas Golembeski said the company had been in frequent contact with Casey and other elected officials since September. "We have shared as much information as we are able with both elected officials and union leadership," he said.
"We are in regular contact with all our stakeholders," said Conoco spokesman Rich Johnson.
Casey's request for hearings came in a letter sent Friday to Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D., N.M.), chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.