‘We Say No!’

Local environmentalists continue battle against area power plant

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Chants of “Meadowlands power plant, we say, ‘No!’ Meadowlands power plant’s got to go!” filled Iglesia De Dios En Cristo La Senda Church on 75th Street in North Bergen on Aug. 29. It was the latest salvo by environmentalists and concerned citizens against a proposed power plant they say would devastate the region and exacerbate climate change.
The meeting was organized by Food and Water Watch, a non-profit group, and was open to the public. Nobody present spoke in favor of the project.
The $1.8B natural gas powered plant, which would be located in the Meadowlands District by Railroad Avenue and 94th Street near Ridgefield in Bergen County, would send its electricity to New York City only.
North Bergen Liberty Generating, which is overseeing the project, and supporters of the plant such as North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco, say it would bring in significant tax revenues for the town, create new jobs, and have little environmental impact, since natural gas is a cleaner fossil fuel than coal or gas (though it still contributes to C02 emissions). They’ve also argued that alternative energy sources like wind and solar need far more land to produce the same amount of electricity.
But those who came to speak out at the church were in sharp disagreement.
Jeff Tittel, director for the New Jersey Sierra Club, estimated that the plant could generate 2.4 million metric tons of C02 annually. He argued that the state’s Department of Environmental Protection is doing a poor effort in combating greenhouse gases.
Tittel read a 2005 DEP statement, calling C02 an air contaminant that needs to be regulated.
“The state of New Jersey says that carbon dioxide is a pollutant,” Tittel said. “They could adopt a standard tomorrow, saying that you cannot increase greenhouse gases by certain levels, and stop these power plants. They choose not to.”
The DEP has already granted the proposed plant freshwater wetlands, flood hazard area and waterfront permits, and a water quality certificate.
Tittel also noted that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently denied an air permit renewal to a proposed natural gas plant in the state. In May, Cuomo announced his plans to block all future natural gas–fueled power plants in New York.
“If Cuomo could take that stand, we have to make [NJ Gov.] Phil Murphy take that stand,” Tittel said. Murphy has said he wants clean energy to power the entire state by 2050.
On cold days and certain times of year, there will be natural gas shortages that will require the plant to store over a million gallons of oil from the Meadowlands for backup, according to the Sierra Club.
“We get enough lies in our lives every day from the White House,” said Hackensack Riverkeeper Bill Sheehan. “We don’t need these people lying to us, too.” Sheehan said he was in favor of Gov. Murphy when he ran, and supported his commitment to have the state rejoin the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative — a collection of eastern and New England states that have achieved substantial greenhouse gas reductions — after former Gov. Chris Christie removed NJ from that group.
But “It’s antithetical to the greenhouse gas initiative to allow and permit power plants in your state that are run on fossil fuels,” Sheehan said.
“Letting the power plants be built next to tracks is an additional risk for all of us,” said Paula Rogovin, of the Coalition to Ban Unsafe Oil Trains, noting that the site is situated close to oil trains, which could be dangerous if the plant has an accident.
Matt Smith of Food and Water watch, referenced a 2010 study from Haas School of Business Prof. Lucas Davis that found that neighborhoods within two miles of power plants experienced 3-7 percent decreases in housing values and rents.
“If we have a major depression of real estate values around the proposed power plant site, that’s going to far offset and outweigh any potential economic benefit,” Smith said. To that end, the presenters said that the plant would pay only around 10 percent of property taxes, because it would be under a state law that exempts energy utility facilities from taxes.
Smith also noted how North Bergen has already negotiated a P.I.L.O.T (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes) for the plant, meaning the plant will pay money directly to the town, which will help the town’s budget, but won’t go to the county and schools. When he mentioned the money is under the control of the town, people in the room booed.
The environmentalists listed a number of things that could be done to stop the plant, including towns passing resolutions against it; county freeholders coming out against the project; and state residents and voters delivering a petition to Gov. Murphy with over 10,000 signatures.
“Unless the people of New Jersey demand their officials do the right thing, they simply won’t do it,” Smith said.

Hannington Dia can be reached at hd@hudsonreporter.com