Sacco says proposed power plant is off the table in North Bergen

Announcement came minutes after Gov. Murphy announced opposiiton to the project

Grassroots protests generated plenty of dialogue about the project and its relation to New Jersey's green footprint as a whole.
Grassroots protests generated plenty of dialogue about the project and its relation to New Jersey's green footprint as a whole.

For the first time after several months of inquiry and criticism, Gov. Phil Murphy has announced his opposition to North Bergen Liberty Generating, a proposed power plant slated for construction in a site zoned for industrial use in North Bergen.

North Bergen Mayor and State Senator Nicholas Sacco followed up minutes after Murphy’s announcement and effectively said that the project is off the table with North Bergen officials.

Up until the announcement, the company behind the project, Mitsubishi subsidiary Diamond Generating Corp., had been actively seeking construction and operation permits from the Department of Environmental Protection, and other environmental and utility agencies.

Sacco said that North Bergen officials will ensure that protest will be the last thing the proposed $1.8 billion power plant will generate.

“The Township of North Bergen was interested in this project because of its potential for substantial new tax revenue and job creation, however we have always said we would only want to see it move forward if it met all environmental and safety standards,” Sacco said. “We will now move on to finding an alternate use for the property that will hopefully provide union construction jobs and significant financial benefits for North Bergen.”

The DEP put its review of the company’s Clean Air Act permit application on hold in June. While DEP and NBLG spokespersons declined to go into great detail, they said that the company planned to make some technological changes and would have to prepare a new application to do so.

While the officials’ statements of opposition don’t constitute a definitive end to the project, it is abundantly likely that Sacco and Murphy will both pursue executive means to reject NBLG’s construction, if the DEP doesn’t follow suit and reject the project outright.

“One down, one to go,” Hackensack Riverkeeper Bill Sheehan said.

By press time, spokespersons for NBLG did not respond to requests for inquiry.

Murphy: ‘I’ve deferred on this long enough’

After several months in which a group of environmental organizations, a self-proclaimed “Don’t Gas the Meadowlands Coalition,” called on Murphy as often as they could to take a clear position on the proposed project, Murphy said he reached an “epiphany,” and decided to voice a less indifferent tone.

“Don’t Gas the Meadowlands” members held rallies, attended public meetings, and persuaded over 50 towns in New Jersey to pass proclamations declaring opposition tot the project.

They were often joined by local elected officials, as well as Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, among others. Organized political pressure mostly came from officials in Bergen County, whereas Hudson County remained relatively quiet.

“I’ve deferred on this long enough,” Murphy said. “I have to say definitively, this project simply doesn’t make sense for New Jersey. At a very personal level, at the end of the day, I’m opposed to it.”

When previously asked about the project, Murphy said that he was inclined to rely on due process carried out by the DEP rather than take a clear-cut stance.

Environmentalists previously criticized Murphy for not personally opining on the project, despite that it would make some of his green policy initiatives impossible to meet.

Murphy has made it clear that he wants to drastically reduce New Jersey’s greenhouse gas emissions in the wake of environmental rollbacks passed by his predecessor, Chris Christie.

Murphy’s goal, according to a new Energy Master Plan drafted after he made an executive order, was to bring the state to 100 percent carbon neutrality by 2050.

The NBLG plant would have generated over 3 million metric tons of carbon dioxide every year, which would have made it the top emitter of greenhouse gases in the state. It would have increased statewide GHG emissions by 20 percent, green advocates said.

The project would not have powered New Jersey. All 1,200 Megawatts that NBLG generated hourly would power Manhattan’s grid, by way of a cable across the Hudson River.

New Jersey, however, would have been stuck with the additional air pollution.

Hudson County already has an “F” rating from the American Lung Association based on its air quality.

Sacco was formerly on board with the project, which would have been a significant chunk of revenue for the township well above the public revenue virtually any other industrial project would generate on the site. As a supporter of the project, he won 70 percent of all votes in the May 14 municipal election, during which the project was a relevant electoral issue. Sacco’s familiar opponent, Larry Wainstein, was a staunch opponent to NBLG.

The project also had the backing of several local labor unions, as its construction would generate about 620 five-year construction jobs, according to consultants.

Two union representatives, Mark Longo of the Engineers Labor-Employer Cooperative and Greg Lavalee of International Union of Operating Engineers local 825, released a joint statement calling Murphy and Sacco’s rejection of the project “shortsighted.”

“Governor Murphy’s decision to oppose the NBLG power plant is a shortsighted choice that prevents thousands of good-paying jobs and jeopardizes the stability of our region’s energy systems. The NBLG plant would have been an immense boost to North Bergen and the surrounding region’s economy, injecting millions in economic activity into our communities while providing essential clean natural gas power to the tri-state area. We encourage the Governor and elected officials across the state to prioritize an inexpensive, stable, and clean energy mix that will be a win-win for our state.”

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