Newark residents and a diverse coalition of environmental, faith and social justice organizations convened the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission board meeting today to call on the agency to review their plans for a new fracked gas power plant at their huge wastewater treatment plant in Newark’s community Discontinue Ironbound.
The speakers called on the Commission and Governor Murphy to stop this polluting proposal and redesign their renewable energy resilience project.
“This fracked gas facility will continue to harm the residents of Ironbound who have already been inappropriately encumbered with an overwhelming number of environmentally hazardous facilities in their area. Governor Murphy had NJ Transit switch from gas to renewable energy just a few miles from here in Kearny to run a microgrid. There is no reason that cannot happen here, and it has to be. Black and brown residents of Newark deserve equal consideration. “ specified Maria Lopez-Nunez, associate director of organization and advocacy for the Ironbound Community Corporation. The sewage treatment plant should have some form of backup generator, but it will improve for our community. You could even cover their pits and put solar panels on them which would reduce odors too! “
Speakers said the project is in direct violation of Governor Murphy’s commitments to protect communities of environmental justice, as well as the Cumulative Effects of Environmental Justice Act passed last summer. This law, which was passed after years of organization by communities for environmental justice, aims to prevent new polluting infrastructures from emerging in already congested communities.
Although the Environmental Justice Act was passed last summer, it will be at least six months before rules come into force requiring projects to conduct a cumulative impact review. The law gives NJDEP additional powers to refuse permits for projects that would exacerbate pollution and public health effects in already congested communities.
Meanwhile, dozens of new pollution projects are currently applying for government approval before the new law goes into effect.
“This fracked gas plant directly contradicts Governor Murphy’s policy to deal with environmental justice and the climate crisis! Newark can’t be everyone else’s dump. We need resilience in the event of another disaster like Superstorm Sandy, but the solution cannot be to uphold NJ’s legacy of environmental racism. My family and neighbors already suffer from toxic pollution from the nearby port, highways, airport, incinerator, many other chimneys and contaminated sites. The governor and NJ Transit have stepped up in the Meadowlands, now the PVSC and the governor need to follow suit here, stop this disastrous proposal and reshape it with renewable energy, ”he said Kim Gaddy, Newark resident, founder of the South Ward Environmental Alliance and national director of environmental justice for the Clean Water Action.
The Newark power plant, funded in large part from tax-funded FEMA dollars, is part of a resilience project proposed after Hurricane Sandy. The storm lost electricity and spilled billions of gallons of raw or partially treated wastewater into the Passaic. The project would provide the wastewater treatment plant with emergency power when the grid fails and offset PVSC’s electricity needs from the grid at other times.
Proponents, while advocating the importance of building infrastructure stability in the face of climate change, are calling for it to be done with clean renewable energies that won’t add pollution in Ironbound and the surrounding region. Proponents see a link between this project and the fracked gas power plant that NJ TRANSIT proposed in nearby Kearny to meet similar resilience goals. After more than 18 months of opposition, NJ Transit announced last fall that it was putting its plans on a gas project on hold and redesigning it with renewable energy.
“Residents and attorneys won a huge victory last fall when NJ Transit announced they would end their proposal for a fracked gas power plant and instead redesign the project with clean renewable energy,” he said Matt Smith, Director of Food & Water Watch New Jersey and a member of the EmpowerNJ Steering Committee. “Now another government agency, under the governor’s supervision, is driving a major pollution project in a community for environmental justice during a public health crisis. If Governor Murphy is to fulfill his commitments to protect public health and fight the climate crisis, he must reject this dirty energy proposal and work with PVSC to reshape the clean renewable energy project. NJ Transit did it, so can they. “
A growing coalition is forming between Ironbound organizations and other groups in Newark and across the state. To date, more than forty organizations have come together to urge the Governor and the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission to stop the fossil fuel power plant and replace it with a clean, renewable solution.
“This facility is in complete contradiction to Governor Murphy and President Biden’s commitments to move to 100% clean, renewable energy,” said Cynthia Mellon, co-chair of the Newark Environmental Commission, a board member of the NJ Environmental Justice Alliance and a Newark resident. “Anything that uses fracked gas should be scrapped. Our polluted city and neighborhoods are already at the limit of what human health can endure. This is clearly an attempt for PVSC not only to meet its resilience requirements, but also to generate revenue for the agency at the expense of clean air and healthy lungs for the communities around the proposed facility and before the new environmental protection comes into effect. There is no justification for this plant. We can do better, so let’s get started. “