Newark residents and a diverse coalition of environmental, faith and social justice organizations called into the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission’s board meeting today to demand the agency stop their plans for a new fracked-gas power plant at their massive sewage processing facility in Newark’s Ironbound community.
The speakers called on the commission and Governor Murphy to stop this polluting proposal and redesign their resiliency project using renewable energy.
“This fracked gas plant will cause further harm to Ironbound residents who have already been unreasonably burdened with an overwhelming number of environmentally hazardous facilities in their area. Governor Murphy had NJ Transit switch from gas to renewables to power a microgrid just a couple miles from here in Kearny, there’s no reason that can’t happen here and it must. Black and brown residents in Newark deserve the same considerations,” stated Maria Lopez-Nunez, Ironbound Community Corporation’s Deputy Director, Organizing and Advocacy. The sewage plant should have a backup generator in some form but one that improves for our community. They could even cover their pits and put solar panels on them that would also reduce odors too!”
Speakers stated that the project is in direct violation of Governor Murphy’s commitments to protect Environmental Justice communities, as well as the landmark environmental justice cumulative impact law passed last summer. That law, passed after years of organizing by environmental justice communities, is designed to prevent new polluting infrastructure in already overburdened communities.
Though the environmental justice law was passed last summer, it will be at least another six months until rules go into effect that would require projects to complete a cumulative impacts review. The law provides NJDEP with additional authority to reject permits for projects that would exacerbate pollution and public health impacts in already overburdened communities.
In the meantime, dozens of new polluting projects are currently seeking permits from the administration before the new law goes into effect.
“This fracked gas plant directly contradicts Governor Murphy’s policies to deal with environmental justice and the climate crisis! Newark can’t be the dumping ground for everyone else. We need resiliency in the event of another disaster like Superstorm Sandy but the solution can’t be to perpetuate NJ’s legacy of environmental racism. My family and neighbors already suffer from toxic pollution from the nearby port, highways, airport, incinerator, many other smoke stacks and contaminated sites. The Governor and NJ Transit stepped up in the Meadowlands, now PVSC and the governor need to follow suit here, stop this disastrous proposal and redesign it with renewables,” said Kim Gaddy, Newark resident, South Ward Environmental Alliance founder and Clean Water Action national environmental justice director.
The Newark power plant, which would be paid for in large part by taxpayer-funded FEMA dollars, is part of a resiliency project proposed in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. The storm caused the sewerage plant to lose power, spilling billions of gallons of raw or partially-treated sewage into the Passaic River. The project would provide backup power to the treatment plant when the grid is down, and offset PVSC’s power needs from the grid at other times.
While advocates understand the importance of building infrastructure resiliency in the face of climate change, they are demanding that this be done using clean renewable energy that will not increase the pollution burden in the Ironbound and surrounding region. Advocates see a connection between this project and the fracked gas power plant NJ TRANSIT had proposed in nearby Kearny to meet similar resiliency goals. After more than 18 months of opposition, NJ Transit announced last fall they would shelve their plans for a gas project and redesign it using renewable energy.
“Residents and advocates secured a huge victory last fall when NJ Transit announced they would stop their proposal for a fracked gas power plant and instead redesign the project using clean renewable energy,” said Matt Smith, Food & Water Watch New Jersey Director and EmpowerNJ steering committee member. “Now another state agency is moving ahead with a major polluting project in an environmental justice community, during a public health crisis, under the Governor’s watch. If Governor Murphy intends 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 redesign the project with clean renewables. NJ Transit did it, they can too.”
A growing coalition is forming between Ironbound organizations and other groups across Newark and the entire state. More than forty organizations have come together so far to call on the Governor and the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission urging them to stop the fossil fuel power plant and replace it with a clean renewable energy solution.
“This plant is completely out of alignment with Governor Murphy’s and President Biden’s commitments to transition to 100% clean, renewable energy”, said Cynthia Mellon, Co-Chair, of the Newark Environmental Commission, board member of the NJ Environmental Justice Alliance, and Newark resident. “Anything that uses fracked gas should be scrapped, full stop. Our pollution-burdened city and neighborhoods are already at the limit of what human health can withstand. Clearly, this is an attempt for PVSC not just to meet its resiliency needs, but to generate revenue for the agency at the expense of clean air and healthy lungs for the communities surrounding the propos plant, and before the new environmental protections enter into force. There is no justification for this plant. We can do better, so let’s start doing it.”