A total of 45 state organizations are pushing for him to do so, said the groups who convened Tuesday.
North Bergen Liberty Generating, the company behind the plant, says that using natural gas will lead to fewer emissions than other types, and can provide more electricity with less land use than renewable options. Natural gas is still considered a fossil fuel contributing to global warming, although at a lower level than coal or oil.
“These people will tell you that this is the best deal that we can get, and it’s not,” said Hackensack Riverkeeper Bill Sheehan, at the conference in Ridgefield, just across the Hackensack River from the North Bergen site. “What we’ll get is the CO2. We will get the other impacts, and we will get none of the energy benefits.”
The $1.8 billion plant, which is awaiting approval from multiple state agencies, would send all of its electricity to New York and not New Jersey -- a major point of contention for critics.
It will provide taxes for the town of North Bergen, either through regular tax payments or an annual PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) to the city’s coffers.
Sheehan said he found out about the plant before it was officially announced, which led him to organize other groups to resist. He first got in contact with Matt Smith, a senior organizer with Food and Water Watch, a national organization that protects clean and healthy drinking water and food.
Speaking at the conference, Smith argued that the plant would release “tremendous” amounts of nitrous oxide and cause high concentrations of ground-level ozone, both of which can lead to heart and lung diseases.
He said that certain people will be affected even more by the emissions.
“It’s really those who are most vulnerable,” Smith said. “Children, mothers, and outdoor workers who would suffer the worst effects of that pollution.”
The protestors also argue that the site, located in the Meadowlands district, would cause harm to the area.
Though officials say the site does not encroach on any wetlands, Sheehan later said construction debris on the site stands on former wetlands space. He also said that the site is located very close to the Skeetskill Marsh.
Smith referenced a report from a public policy advocacy group, identifying the Meadowlands as the region at most risk from rising sea levels and flooding from climate change. Last year, the Regional Plan Association, an urban research and advocacy organization based in the New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut region, released a regional plan for saving the area. It claimed that permanent flooding from sea level rise will likely displace between 4,000 and 8,000 Meadowlands residents by the century’s end.
Jeff Tittel, director of the grassroots New Jersey Sierra Club, called the protest against the plant “ground zero” in environmentalists’ fight for a clean energy future. “We want to make sure we have clean air and clean water, and we fight climate change,” Tittel said.
Tittel also called on Murphy to sign an executive order placing a moratorium on all new fossil fuel-based power plants.
Murphy has said he wants the state to operate on 100 percent clean energy by 2050.
NY/NJ Baykeeper Greg Remaud pointed out that the site is within a few miles of PSEG’s Bergen Generating Station, a natural gas firing plant. That, the environmentalists argue, could produce a cumulative pollution impact in the future, if the state greenlights NBLG’s proposal.
Ted Glick, who heads climate activist group 350 New Jersey, noted that natural gas is mainly comprised of methane, a greenhouse gas around 86 times more potent than CO2.
Bill Brennan, from Franciscan Response to Fracking, a faith based group from Pompton Lakes, also asked Murphy to sign the executive order against non-renewable power plants. He ran against Murphy last year for governor in the primary election but lost.
He said he is happy he was unsuccessful, because “so far, he has kept his word on everything that he said he was going to do as governor.”
“What we’ll get is the CO2.” – Bill Sheehan
The organizers held a Q&A session after the conference.
When asked what their next step is, should Murphy not take any stance against the plant, Tittel said that legal action is a possibility down the line.
A reporter inquired as to the hazards of placing a plant in the area. Brennan said that crude oil trains pass near the site. A train derailment and explosion would destroy everything in the area, including the plant, he said.
North Bergen Liberty Generating spokesman Brian Hague attended the conference. He didn’t offer comments to media, but later sent a company press release responding to the environmentalists.
“Our facility would displace less efficient – and higher emitting – forms of electric generation,” the release said. “Over the first 15 years of NBLG’s operations, an average reduction of approximately 25 percent in annual emissions of NOx and 32-percent in annual emissions of SO2 from older power plants located in New York City is projected.”
Officials from the town of North Bergen have welcomed the plant, citing tax money and jobs. In a past story covering the press conference announcing the plant, Mayor Nicholas Sacco said, “It is no drain on services to North Bergen. It’s going to bring millions of dollars in taxes.”
Last week, town spokesman Phil Swibinski added in a statement, “We are committed to ensuring that the site is built safely and believe that its remote, industrial location is appropriate. The state Department of Environmental Protection and other agencies will be thoroughly reviewing the proposal to ensure that it meets all environmental, air quality and public safety standards, and if any aspect of the projects does not meet those standards, it will not be built."
Speaking to a NorthJersey.com reporter Tuesday, Murphy said that he doesn’t have much information on the plant project yet. He questioned its benefit to New Jersey.
“I have to admit I always scratch my head when something is being done here that another state will benefit from,” Murphy said. “Beyond that, I don’t have an opinion.”
Hannington Dia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org