With the May 14 municipal election just around the corner, North Bergen mayoral candidate Larry Wainstein has filed a class action lawsuit seeking to halt to the proposed North Bergen Liberty Generating (NBLG) power plant.
This suit is the first legal action taken against the project since it was first announced over a year ago.
In a seven-page complaint which names Gov. Phil Murphy, Mayor Nicholas Sacco, and North Bergen Township as defendants, Wainstein charged that the $1.8 billion generating facility, scheduled for construction in 2022, allegedly violates residents’ civil rights, based on Murphy’s Executive Order No. 23.
“It is clear that the people of North Bergen are being discriminated,” Wainstein said. “They want to build this power plant in a community comprised of 80 percent Hispanics, like myself. If this plant isn’t good enough for Governor Murphy’s home town, it’s not good enough for North Bergen.”
When asked about why he filed the suit a few weeks before the election, almost a full year after the project was announced, Wainstein said electoral politics gave him a stronger voice.
“I don’t want this power plant in North Bergen,” Wainstein said. “The people don’t want this power plant. We have one of the most densely populated communities in New Jersey, it’s no place for a power plant.”
North Bergen officials have said that any potential for negative impacts on local air and health quality are a top priority being considered as agreements are actively met. Phil Swibinski, a spokesman for Sacco’s re-election campaign, accused Wainstein of being dishonest.
“Larry Wainstein is lying about this project and trying to scare voters,” Swibinski said. “It’s the same disgraceful tactic he used on the immigration issue and he wound up being publicly condemned by the most prominent organization of Latino pastors in the state.”
Swibinski dubbed the suit a political stunt that “voters aren’t going to buy,” and that Wainstein’s rhetoric was misleading given the lengthy approvals process the plant must go through to meet the state DEP’s safety standards.
“This is just more proof that Wainstein can never be trusted and he will tell any lie in order to trick North Bergen residents into supporting an out of town, multimillionaire like him who lives in a $3 million mansion in Franklin Lakes,” Swibinski said.
Executive Order 23
In the executive order Wainstein cited, Murphy said that ‘environmental justice’ includes “ensuring that residents of all communities receive fair and equitable treatment in decision-making that affects their environment, communities, homes, and health.”
“Historically, New Jersey’s low-income communities and communities of color have been exposed to disproportionately high and unacceptably dangerous levels of air, water, and soil pollution, with the accompanying potential for increased public health impacts,” Murphy said in the executive order.
The executive order called on the state Department of Environmental Protection to establish guidelines for considering environmental equity for lower-income, non-white communities, in decisions that could affect air, water, and soil quality.
Murphy hasn’t personally opined on the project itself, but emphasized that NBLG is going through standard approval and safety procedures, and that he would “call balls and strikes” as he sees them.
Mario Blanch, Wainstein’s attorney, filed the suit in Mercer County Superior Court on April 15.
“Governor Murphy has already said that minority communities are subject to discrimination when it comes to environmental concerns,” Blanch said. “He said that in his own words, in Executive Order 23. We suffer more contamination and more environmental problems than other communities, yet we have a power plant being built right here in North Bergen, a Hispanic community.”
Health is utmost concern
The American Lung Association, gave Hudson County an “F” rating, in its annual evaluation of ground level ozone content.
However, the state DEP determined that most ground-level ozone in the state is a result of a chemical reaction between nitrogen compounds from car exhaust, and volatile organic compounds from a wide array of industrial and electric facilities.
According to the federal Environmental Protection Agency, long-term exposure to ground level ozone can have negative effects on respiratory function, and aggravate a number of illnesses including asthma, emphysema, and bronchitis.
According to Swibinski, speaking for Sacco’s incumbent campaign, the health of North Bergen residents is a top priority to elected officials. They maintain that the project will only be green-lit if it is proven safe through rigorous permitting.
“The project will only get approved and ultimately built if it is declared completely safe and green-lit by the state Department of Environmental Protection,” Swibinski said. “North Bergen has no regulatory role in the process, but we would never allow residents to face any kind of dangerous situation and would do everything in our power to stop the project if it was determined to be unsafe. Thankfully, state environmental regulations make that possibility extremely unlikely.”
Wainstein lambasted a 30-year PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) plan that is still being negotiated between the township and NBLG, dubbing it a “tax abatement.”
While it is true that NBLG would not be paying standard property taxes, the reason township officials are negotiating a PILOT plan is to have NBLG pay a greater amount than what the town would accrue through property taxes, according to Swibinski.
“If the plant is approved by all standards put in place, it will be a major infusion to keep a stable tax base,” Swibinski has previously told The Hudson Reporter.
For updates on this and more stories check hudsonreporter.com or follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Mike Montemarano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.