environment News

Momentum builds to end proposed Newark gas plant

This week, dozens of people spoke out at a public hearing against a proposed fossil fuel plant for the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission in Newark’s Ironbound neighborhood. The effort comes after over 100 health care workers sent a letter to Gov. Phil Murphy last week urging the state to reject the PVSC power plant.

“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.” 

If completed, the proposed PVSC plant would be the fourth methane gas-fired power plant in the Ironbound neighborhood in Newark. PVSC would use the plant as a back-up generator to keep the system running in the event the plant goes offline (as it did during Hurricane Sandy).

Critics of the plan, including the aforementioned health officials, say the area is already overburdened from the plants, the state’s largest trash incinerator, ports, transportation through the region and more.

“There’s no substitute for the air we breathe. Over 19 million people in the Newark-Jersey city area already suffer from bad air days because of ozone and particulate matter,” said Dr. Catherine Chen, MD, FACP, in the letter to Murphy. “Over 42 days of this already. We can’t have this power plant add even more days of the year to this toll. People and the communities need to breathe clean air.”

Murphy signed environmental justice legislation in 2020 that would prevent the construction of projects like this in overburdened communities, but critics say supporters of the plant are trying to push it through before the law is fully implemented—an interim executive order does not require PVSC to complete a cumulative health or environmental impact assessment, as will be required in the environmental justice law.

“PVSC is rushing through the [environmental justice 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.”

Before the PVSC board could vote to move forward on the project in January, Murphy intervened and required PVSC to develop a renewable-based alternative for consideration. Though PVSC has requested bids, it has yet to develop a plan. The commission will receive comments on the proposal through the summer before the NJ Department of Environmental Protection considers the project and decides on its fate.

“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.”

The PVSC plant is but one of a handful of fossil-fuel based projects that concerned community members are rallying against in North Jersey. Environmentalists testified earlier this month against one notable plant—NJ Transit’s proposed fracked gas plant in Kearny—claiming those in charge need to consider alternative power sources. The requests were met with hesitation, to say the least.