Students join local fight against generating plant

Green advocates demand a new rule book

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Students spoke in opposition to fossil fuel projects.
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More than 50 Bergen County officials signed on in opposition to the latest of many natural gas plants in New Jersey.
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Hundreds of protesters marched to the site.
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Larry Wainstein shook off the election loss to continue slamming the proposed project.
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  1 / 4 
Students spoke in opposition to fossil fuel projects.
  2 / 4 
More than 50 Bergen County officials signed on in opposition to the latest of many natural gas plants in New Jersey.
  3 / 4 
Hundreds of protesters marched to the site.
  4 / 4 
Larry Wainstein shook off the election loss to continue slamming the proposed project.

UPDATE: A number of sources told The Hudson Reporter that NBLG had withdrawn its Clean Air Act hearing application from the DEP. While the application had not been listed with every other Clean Air Act application on the DEP website, NBLG spokesman Brian Hague said that the company never withdrew their application. That being said, Hague told The Hudosn Reporter that the DEP will be hosting public hearings on the project in the near future, as previously expected.

High school students from several municipalities turned out to lead a rally and march in opposition to a proposed power plant, North Bergen Liberty Generating, slated for construction on the Bergen-Hudson county border.

NBLG, which is located in North Bergen, would supply power to New York City.

The property is in the township’s industrial corridor at the edge of the Hackensack River.

“I said to myself, if protesting and marching in the streets is the only way I can make my voice heard, then that’s what I’m going to do,” one student said.

The students were joined by elected officials and legislators, exclusively from Bergen County, including Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, Assembly members Clinton Calabrese and Valerie Huttle, and Ridgefield Mayor Anthony Suarez. Heads of various environmental groups were also on hand. After listening to several speeches, marchers headed to the site of the proposed NBLG project.

‘F’ is for failing 

Environmental groups are concerned that Hudson and Bergen counties are already burdened with demonstrably poor air quality. Due to ground-level ozone, the American Lung Association has repeatedly given the two counties an “F” rating in air-quality reports. Most ground-level ozone in the area comes from car exhaust, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

“My brother and I both have asthma, and I know that people here are already dealing with the health consequences of polluted air and water,” Laura Suarez, a Ridgefield High School student and daughter of Mayor Anthony Suarez said. “We need to work together to improve our air and water quality and not let private corporations increase pollution for their profit and New York’s energy.”

Senator Loretta Weinberg, who has long been opposed to the plant, supported the students.

“The phrase keeps coming to mind, ‘and the children shall lead them,’” she said. “I’ve been involved in politics and public life for more years than most of you have been alive. There’s a word in my religion called ‘kvell,’ and it means to be very proud of what someone else is doing. I am kvelling today.”

Larry Wainstein, who railed against the project in an unsuccessful North Bergen mayoral bid earlier this month, also joined the march.

Demanding a statewide halt

Despite mounting opposition, there are no directly obvious signs that the DEP or Governor Phil Murphy will ultimately rule against a power plant being constructed in North Bergen. Green advocates say that DEP standards don’t do enough to promote the use of renewable resources, and want a new rule book that would drastically reduce the state’s carbon footprint.

At the state level, environmental groups are requesting a tall order from Gov. Phil Murphy, in the wake of environmental rollbacks under his predecessor, former Gov. Christopher Christie. Advocates are calling on Murphy to issue a blanket moratorium, barring any expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure anywhere in the state.

NBLG is just one of 13 proposed projects related to fossil fuel across New Jersey that environmental groups oppose.

DEP approval is likely

While NBLG would be cleaner than a coal or oil-fired alternative, it would still be one of the largest greenhouse gas emitters in the state, because it would have one of the greatest energy capacities in the state.

According to the EPA, natural gas releases about 50 percent fewer carbon compounds into the atmosphere than coal or oil. There is, however, methane leakage during the transport of natural gas, and damage can occur as a result of fracking. Advocates view natural gas as a stopgap until coal and oil can be replaced by renewable energy projects that they claim are efficient and lucrative.

The New York Independent System Operator oversees the New York City power grid, which has a 1,200 megawatt output. The agency reported that other facilities scheduled to come online before NBLG would make up for a projected power deficit in New York City.

Gov. Murphy’s stance is to allow the state DEP to carry out its mandate to oversee generating facilities in the state.

Not the first of its kind

After getting permits from state and federal agencies, NBLG would transmit 1,200 megawatts to New York City’s power grid. The plant is slated to be built just over a mile from PSE&G’s Bergen Generating Station, which generates a nearly identical output. NBLG would essentially be a “twin” facility to the PSE&G plant, which powers New Jersey.

Little can be done locally to put caps on emissions or energy output. Emissions, and the quality of air, water, and soil are regulated by state and federal agencies.

Township spokesman Phil Swibinski said that officials would do everything in their power to bring the project to a halt if DEP findings revealed that the project could pose serious health hazards to nearby residents.

In the meantime, officials are still negotiating with the company to come up with a PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) plan that would generate more revenue for the township than what it would receive from property taxes if the site were used for other kinds of industrial projects. They anticipate that the project would infuse about $5 million more into the township budget per year. The revenue could offset property taxes or be used for other public projects in North Bergen.

Local labor unions are enthusiastic about a $1.8 billion construction gig, which would bring in hundreds of temporary construction jobs. However, the number of employees would drop to just over 30 in high-skilled positions once the construction phase is over.

For updates on this and more stories check hudsonreporter.com or follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Mike Montemarano can be reached at mikem@hudsonreporter.com.