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Potential North Jersey energy projects at odds with state’s climate goals

Gov. Phil Murphy has accelerated climate goals (seeking a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2030, from 2006 levels), ushered in investment in offshore wind energy and spoken about pushing the state toward a greener future. Too, efforts to electrify the state’s transportation sector were bolstered this week by news of a $15-million-plus investment in an electric vehicle charging network.

But, no real progress can be made without a massive curtailing of the state’s reliance on fossil fuels. This week, two developments in North Jersey will further force the state to put action behind its words.

First, environmental groups identified critical shortcomings in new plans for an NJ Transit power plant in Kearny this week. The plan, originally, was for a 140-megawatt plant natural gas plant—conceived during the Christie administration— but those plans were shelved in lieu of a plant that relies on renewable energy sources and batteries after more than a dozen municipalities and plenty of environmental groups raised concerns.

In December last year, NJ Transit released new guidelines for its plant along with a request for proposals. But the new framework for the plant left environmental groups and renewable energy experts wanting—for instance, a gas power plant is not off the table and the use of “renewable” natural gas (an oxymoron) may be incorporated. (You may hear the term “carbon neutral” used a lot.)

Critics are asking NJ Transit to rewrite the framework from scratch, with a focus on renewable energy.

“If Governor Murphy is serious about his clean energy and climate commitments, he must order NJ Transit to re-write the RFP in a way that prioritizes the stakeholder feedback they have received,” says Food & Water Watch New Jersey State Director Matt Smith. “Fifteen North Jersey municipalities and 13 state legislators have joined thousands of New Jersey residents in calling on Governor Murphy to fulfill his promise to reverse decades of environmental injustice, and that starts by stopping new polluting power plants. Without decisive action now, New Jersey will bear the deadly brunt of the Governor’s fossil foolishness.”

The second issue coming to a head is the proposed Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission (PVSC) natural gas plant in the Ironbound section of Newark. Conceived as part of a Hurricane Sandy resiliency project, the plant would allow PVSC to continue processing waste water when the standard power grid is down.

PVSC was set to vote on the plant last month before Murphy jumped in to ask for a postponement, saying in a statement, “it is imperative that the project adheres to the administration’s core values on environmental justice.” Newark is especially burdened by the environmental toll of the state’s fossil fuel and manufacturing industries.

Critics of the plan are calling on Murphy to pull the plug on the project—as well as a growing number of municipalities in the area. It’s another bit of pressure put on Murphy after a coalition of environmental groups filed a lawsuit against his administration last month, claiming it hasn’t done enough to ensure how the state is going to reach its renewable energy goals, and hasn’t closed the door to new fossil fuel projects.

And on Feb. 2, critics panned the state Department of Environmental Protection’s proposed rule on carbon dioxide emissions, which would still allow the majority of the state’s fossil fuel plants to continue emitting GHGs, and exempt a handful of others.

“The DEP proposed power plant CO2 rule is just more hot air. The rule allows for new gas power plants and grandfathers almost all of our existing fossil fuel plants. The rule is a sham. DEP says it only reduces pollution by 2.5 million tons in 2035 and zero for 2030, which means we will never come close to meeting our climate goals,” Jeff Tittel, retired former NJ Sierra Club Director, said in a press release. “This rule has more holes in it than Swiss cheese. It exempts incinerators, biogas,  backup plants, and doesn’t look at environmental justice. The proposed PVSC and NJ TransitGrid plants under this rule can be built as well as a new gas plant in Woodbridge.”

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