Tensions were high during Tuesday’s meeting of Pennsylvania’s Philadelphia Liquefied Natural Gas Task Force in Chester. The task force is studying the best way to develop an LNG terminal in the region. Pennsylvania has become the second-largest producer of natural gas in the United States.

The gathering at Widener University in Chester featured a brief interruption after task force chair state Rep. Martina White (R-Philadelphia) admonished Chester City Councilman Stefan Roots for attacking the moral character of the task force and its members.

The community would “really love to believe that you are guided by the same moral imperatives that we are,” Roots told the task force members. “But proposing to locate an LNG export facility in Chester proves to us that you are not.”

White took issue with Roots’ comments.

“Speaking to the task force and ascertaining motives of this task force is inappropriate, again,” warned White a moment later. She had previously issued a similar warning to a community activist. “And I would just really appreciate everyone being respectful of the task force coming all the way to Chester to hear what you have to say. However, we will not equally be inappropriately impugned, and I appreciate your time and ability to be respectful.”

Some LNG facility opponents responded with shouts that brought the meeting to a halt. After one attendee asked people to “be respectful and quiet,” Roots’ testimony continued without further interruption.

Roots, the Democratic nominee for mayor of Chester, rejected the idea that he was out of line.

“I don’t think that we got into it at all,” Roots told DVJournal after the hearing. “It was never my intent to directly point fingers at the task force, and, in all honesty, I can’t wait to watch it again. That’s one part that I want to replay and see what it is that I may have said that triggered her. I’m not quite sure what it was.”

White disagreed.

“I did what I felt obligated to do to ensure that the members are defended against any personal attack that had taken place in this hearing,” she told DVJournal. White believes the comments were unacceptable and wouldn’t be allowed at the State Capitol. “I think how things were handled was very appropriate.”

Where White and Roots do agree is the need for community involvement.

“I think it was overall a very good hearing, just like all the rest of these,” White said. “I am very pleased with how things went.”

“The part that probably grabbed me the most was the number of Chester people…(who) came out to participate as a witness to the hearing.” Roots said. “I wasn’t expecting cheers and wild applause…”

At issue is an estimated $6.4 billion project suggested by Penn America Energy LLC to build an LNG terminal on the Delaware River in Chester. The site would be an export hub for Pennsylvania’s gas-rich Marcellus Basin. The U.S. currently has just two LNG terminals on the East Coast, limiting its ability to ship natural gas to European allies who currently rely on Russian resources. The war in Ukraine has made shipping natural gas abroad a foreign policy issue, but for the residents of Chester — who already host the Covanta trash-burning power plant — it is a very local concern.

Penn America Energy promised the 100-acre facility would have near zero emissions and reduce shipping time to Europe by up to four days when it is ready in 2028.

Roots, who is widely expected to be elected Chester’s new mayor in November, isn’t convinced the city’s economy can wait that long. The city is under the control of a state-appointed receiver and has filed for bankruptcy. “Chester’s issues with bankruptcy are immediate; they’re now. So, we will continue to press forward and get ourselves back into a stable situation for Chester to survive daily.

“Is there anything else that’s on the horizon or that’s promoted that could potentially bring us the revenue that a project like this has? In all fairness, I’m going to say no.”

Roots is curious to see what happens next and whether Chester will be the site of the LNG plant. “I was kind of led to believe, through talking to a few of these people, that they’re on the panel to make a decision for Pennsylvania, not particularly the city of Chester.”

White wants people to stay focused on the task force’s job. “Our role and responsibility is what the legislation directed us to do. Which is to examine opticals, economic feasibilities, economic impact, and security needs that are involved in creating an LNG export facility in Pennsylvania.”

The task force is scheduled to publish a final report to Gov. Josh Shapiro and the General Assembly before the end of the year.