Today, dozens of Newark residents and activists from across New Jersey spoke at a public hearing in opposition to the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission’s plans to build a new gas fired power plant at their wastewater treatment facility in Newark’s Ironbound Community.
“The last thing the Ironbound needs is another power plant. Residents here already experience high levels of pollution from numerous sources including three other gas power plants, NJ’s largest trash incinerator, heavy industry, Newark airport, truck and train traffic, and major highways. The Ironbound is the definition of an overburdened community,” said Maria Lopez-Nuñez, Deputy Director of Advocacy and Organizing at Ironbound Community Corporation. “Increasing the pollution burden on Newark is perpetuating NJ’s legacy of environmental racism. The community has done its job sounding the alarms, we need our elected officials to step in and help us stop this grave injustice . We can’t fix one problem by hurting the lungs of children.”
Despite the landmark Environmental Justice law that Governor Murphy signed in 2020 that should prevent projects like this from being sited in overburdened communities, PVSC is seeking final approval for their power plant before the law is implemented. The interim Administrative Order 2021-25, which PVSC is subject to, does not include the requirement for a cumulative public health and environmental impacts assessment to be completed prior to a permit decision – a key provision in the EJ law.
“It is disappointing to see that PVSC has opted to forego doing a thorough cumulative impact assessment in line with the forthcoming EJ law, thereby disregarding the sentiment of thousands of residents from Newark and across the state who are demanding that EJ communities are no longer treated as sacrifice zones,” said Dr. Ana Isabel Baptista, Assistant Professor of Professional Practice & Co-Director of the Tishman Environment and Design Center at The New School University.
“All of NJ was affected by Hurricane Sandy, but people in Newark, specifically the Ironbound are impacted continuously by the imminent health crisis of environmental pollution,” said Melissa Miles, Executive Director, New Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance.
Approving the project would undermine Governor Murphy’s professed commitment to phase out fossil fuels and protect clean air, clean water and a healthy environment for all residents regardless of zip code.
“Newark residents need their concerns addressed, not just lip service. We cannot afford any new industrial smokestacks like PVSC’s proposed gas plant. There are better options out there for our lungs, our jobs, and our Bay,” said Kim Gaddy, Clean Water Action National Environmental Justice Director and the founder of Newark’s South Ward Environmental Alliance. “PVSC and the Murphy Administration must rethink building a fourth gas plant in the Ironbound if their words about environmental justice are to mean anything other than another environmental injustice.”
People in Newark have a long history with polluting facilities and their effects on our health. The new environmental legislation, which is designed to protect us, has not yet had the desired effect,” said Cynthia Mellon, Co-Chair of the City of Newark Environmental Commission. “We are carefully monitoring PVSC’s promises to the community, but due to the pollution overburden Newark experiences, we ask that this gas-fired power plant not be built and that PVSC seek other ways to increase the resiliency of its plant. We must turn away from fossil fuels now.”
After widespread opposition to a vote to move this project ahead that had been planned for PVSC’s January board meeting, Governor Murphy intervened and directed PVSC to cancel it and do a renewable alternatives assessment. Though PVSC put out an RFP for renewable energy proposals earlier this year, they have still not completed their review.
“PVSC is rushing through the EJ Law public hearing process for its outdated gas plant idea before it has even finished reviewing proposals for renewable energy sources that could replace the need for a new, polluting plant,” said Jonathan Smith, Senior Attorney at Earthjustice. ”We need PVSC to pump the brakes and thoughtfully consider alternatives that could save the health of Ironbound residents and help New Jersey achieve its decarbonization goals – not barrel through another gas plant in a neighborhood that already has more gas plants than anywhere else in the state.”
This public hearing comes less than a week after over 130 health professionals held a press conference in opposition to this project, and sent a letter to Governor Murphy signed by over 130 health care workers regarding the public health impacts of increased pollution in the Ironbound.
“Fossil fuel pollution has been estimated to lead to over 10.2 million premature deaths,” said Dr. Lisa Cerceo, MD, academic hospitalist with a special interest in environmental health and the impacts of climate change. “But it is far too easy to fall into the trap of just seeing these as numbers. These are children with asthma, grandparents with lung cancers, fathers with heart attacks, and mothers with adverse birth outcomes.”
PVSC will receive public comments on this proposal through the summer which will be reviewed by the NJDEP before they decide whether or not to grant PVSC permits to construct the gas plant. In the meantime, Newark residents and allies across the state remain committed to getting Governor Murphy to stop this project and direct PVSC to redesign it with a renewable energy alternative.
“The path forward has never been more clear,” said Matt Smith, New Jersey State Director with Food & Water Watch. “Governor Murphy must direct his own agency, PVSC, to cancel their contract for gas fired turbines, withdraw their air permit application for the polluting power plant, and re-design the project in a way that does not add any more pollution to Newark and neighboring communities.”