Passaic River power plant project moves forward

Two months after Governor Phil Murphy temporarily stopped the project, a state agency under his control is still pushing ahead with plans to build a gas-fired power plant along the Passaic River, leaving opponents to question the governor’s commitment to clean energy and environmental justice.

Residents, environmentalists, doctors and others pleaded with the state Department of Environmental Protection in an online hearing Tuesday night to deny a key air permit to the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission , saying the power plant she wants to build in Newark is adding more pollution to an already over-stressed community.

“We are already suffering from the effects of pollution in this area, so we don’t need another gasoline generator,” said Iveth Mosquera of Kearny, whose two children suffer from asthma.

In response to criticism, the sewage treatment plant will add more renewable energy sources elsewhere to help offset emissions from the proposed power plant, which would only be used as emergency backup, commission members said on Tuesday. and their consultants. The sewage treatment plant lost power for three days after Super Hurricane Sandy in 2012 spilled 840 million gallons of raw sewage into Newark Bay and surrounding waterways.

Greg Tramontozzi, the commission’s executive director, said Tuesday the plant would only be on one day a month for testing and maintenance outside of emergencies. He said the plant would have advanced emission controls to limit air pollution.

“During the year when no emergency occurs, the power generation facility would be offline for 353 days,” Tramontozzi said.

The hearing, which lasted more than three hours, was designed to consider the impact the facility would have on an environmental justice community – areas that have a disproportionate share of pollution-producing facilities and have a minority population important. The area around the factory is filled with factories, a large incineratormany power stations and Port Newark, and is surrounded by highways.

While air quality has improved in recent years, North Jersey and New York still rank 14th in the United States for smog days, according to a report released last week by the American Lung Association.

Opponents said the plant would pump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and exacerbate the intensity and frequency of storms like Sandy by slowly warming the planet.

At the center of this debate is a 2020 Environmental Justice Act signed by Murphy that aims to build fewer polluting projects in communities of color. It allows the DEP to deny a permit if it finds that the cumulative environmental or public health impact of a project would be greater in a crowded community than in other non-blooded communities in New Jersey.

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But enforcement rules are still being worked out by the agency, and an interim order does not require the DEP to consider the cumulative historical impacts the pollution has had on communities around the facility. factory, including Newark’s Ironbound.

The project is already well advanced. The commission awarded a $51 million contract to Siemens for equipment including three turbines that have already been built and are “ready to ship to PVSC on notice.” according to to a committee report.

But in January, Murphy blocked the commission from voting on another aspect of the construction, saying it needed further review to ensure “the project meets the administration’s core values ​​of environmental justice”.

In response, the commission’s consultants said on Tuesday that they now plan to run the proposed power plant less often, add more solar power for sewage plant operations and take power plants offline. other fossil fuel turbines by 2030.

These measures “would reduce emissions elsewhere on the site to more than offset actual project emissions,” said Cynthia Hibbard of engineering firm CDM Smith.

Opponents say this does not go far enough and question the commission’s claims that the new power plant as well as these green measures will lead to a reduction in air pollutants.

“He should give Newark these discounts unrelated to the new factory anyway,” said Nicky Sheats, director of the Center for the Urban Environment at Kean University. “The question is, why aren’t they making these cuts now?

Scott Fallon has covered the COVID-19 pandemic since it emerged in March 2020. For unlimited access to the latest news on the pandemic’s impact on New Jersey, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.

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