Newark residents urge Governor Murphy to halt plans for new power plant as he calls for ‘historic’ environmental justice law

Newark residents and environmental activists are calling on New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy to delay plans for a wastewater treatment plant to build a natural gas-fired power plant in an over-polluted corner of town.

The Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission, which serves one in six New Jersey residents and treats waste from East Coast states including New York City, will vote Thursday on a construction contract for the $ 180 million project.

“It’s not fair that facilities like PVSC are empowering themselves at the expense of the surrounding community,” said Melissa Miles, executive director of the New Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance. “They are, once again, outsourcing the costs to the people who live closest. “

The PVSC wants to build an 84 megawatt power station on its property in an industrial corner of eastern Newark. The plant would produce back-up electricity during storms and would only operate for maintenance purposes or when the power grid is overloaded during high demand (about once a year, according to PVSC). Officials say emergency power is needed to mitigate climate change and worsening storms. When Hurricane Sandy struck in 2012, the facility lost power for 72 hours and 840 million gallons of raw sewage seeped into the Passaic River and Newark Bay.

But conservationists say building a new power plant runs counter to Murphy’s promises to protect black and brown communities from being exposed to more polluting facilities. Murphy signed a landmark bill in 2020 that would allow the state to reject permits for projects like power plants or other manufacturing facilities if they disproportionately impact communities already overburdened with pollution.

The rules of the law are still being drafted, so the measure will not take effect until late spring at the earliest. That means the proposed power plant, which is awaiting approval for an air permit from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, may escape further scrutiny. Last year, the DEP issued an administrative order requiring any facility applying for a permit in an environmentally overburdened community to hold public hearings and address concerns raised by the community.

But environmental and civil rights groups said that was not enough to allay their concerns about the power plant. They are urging Murphy to step in and at least delay the vote this week.

The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment. The office of Newark mayor Ras Baraka also did not respond to a request for comment on his position.

“I think everyone would agree that having two power plants is disproportionate. Having three, after signing the strictest environmental justice law in your city, is just an insult, you know, it’s morally wrong, ”said Maria Lopez Nuñez, deputy director of the organization and advocacy at the Ironbound Community Corporation, an environmental advocacy group in Newark. .

The proposed power plant would be located near a four square mile residential area known as Ironbound, which is home to 50,000 residents.

“We are less than a mile from the nearest elementary school and a few blocks from the nearest houses,” she said.

The plant would operate no more than 1,200 hours per year and its emissions would be below acceptable state standards, according to a copy of their submitted permit. The Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission is the fifth largest wastewater treatment facility in the country. It serves 48 towns in the counties of Bergen, Hudson, Passaic, Union and Essex in the densely populated northeast corner of the state.

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