The state’s Department of Environmental Protection on June 26 issued the first permits to begin construction of a gas-fired power plant in North Bergen. It will be built on a 15-acre parcel of land near Railroad Avenue in the northwestern section of town.
The facility would generate power for New York City through cables under the Hudson River. The plant would not provide power to New Jersey.
The initial permits authorize the construction of a gas turbine, two storm water outfall structures, and the installation of the cables under the Hudson River. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers still needs to approve the plan.
North Bergen officials support the plan, predicting the project will create hundreds of union construction jobs and generate millions of dollars in tax revenue. The $1.8 billion project is being proposed by California-based Diamond Generating Corp. Officials with the company previously said the plant would be the cleanest and most efficient in the region.
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 considered a fossil fuel contributing to global warming, although at a lower level than coal or oil.
But last week, the Union City Board of Commissioners passed a resolution opposing the plant. They said in their resolution that the plant would be a large source of greenhouse gas emissions leading to chronic illnesses and would add to an already crowded power infrastructure in north Jersey. It also cites a fatal explosion at a plant under construction in 2010 in Connecticut and the fact that the top 11 electric plant operators in the U.S. have been fined a total of over $13 billion since 2000 for 161 environmental violations.
The resolution also cites an ‘F’ grade in air quality in Hudson and Bergen counties from the America Lung Association, and calls the plant a direct threat to the Meadowlands, one of New Jersey’s most crucial ecological resources.
The plant would not provide power to New Jersey.
Officials in Ridgefield, adjacent to the proposed plant, do not support the plan and approved a resolution denouncing the plan at their June 20 meeting.
Representatives of environmental groups held a gathering near the site in May and argued it will hasten greenhouse gas emissions that pose a danger to the earth’s atmosphere and people’s health. They called on Gov. Phil Murphy to take action against the plant, but the governor said he hadn’t formed an opinion yet.
A total of 45 state organizations are pushing for him to do so, said the protestors.
“These [officials] 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.”
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 May 8 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.”
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, has 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 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.
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