Dozens of environmentalists and climate activists joined local students on Aug. 24 in a march and kayak protest against NJ Transit’s plan to build a massive fracked-gas power plant in Kearny.
The demonstration, dubbed “Paddle and March for Our Lungs,” began with a rally at Laurel Hill Park.
One group of students marched from there to the Secaucus Junction train station, while others paddled down the Hackensack close to the proposed site of the plant.
Hackensack River at risk
NJ Transit will construct a fracked-gas power plant on the former Koppers Koke site, as well as offices, a solar panel array, and new substations at other sites in Kearny and Hoboken, totaling more than $546 million.
Funding comes from more than $400 million in federal grants for disaster relief. The remainder will be supported by NJ Transit’s trust fund.
The plant will provide backup power for the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail, AmTrak’s Northeast Corridor, and the Morris and Essex Line in the event of power outages. The project is part of the agency’s TransitGrid proposal, which aims to create an electrical microgrid to supply reliable power during storms or whenever the centralized power grid is compromised.
The plant would provide 140 megawatts of power, and another two megawatts provided by a gas generator constructed in Jersey City.
A NJ Transit fact sheet claims that “state of the art emissions controls and resilient equipment would be used to maintain and monitor air quality,” noting that “while combustion technology does produce CO2, the microgrid would be able to produce power at greater efficiencies compared to existing facilities that currently serve the mass transit grid.”
Hudson County residents and local activists counter that the project hurts the environment and surrounding communities.
“Today we rallied on land and in the water to let Gov. Murphy know that New Jersey doesn’t want and doesn’t need any more dirty energy projects,” said Food & Water Action organizer Sam DiFalco. “The NJ Transit fracked gas plant would generate air pollution and steer our state away from its climate goals. Gov. Murphy has to decide if he means what he says about protecting our climate and stopping environmental injustice.”
“It is NJ Transit, a state government agency, that is endangering students, teachers, and residents of the surrounding area,” said Ellen Lee, a Food & Water Action intern and president of Bergen Tech’s Environmental Protection Initiative. “They are the ones ignoring pleas from residents, research from the Don’t Gas The Meadowlands coalition, and concerns about climate change. … I hope that NJ Transit would call off the project, and would start researching alternatives that do not emit 576,000 tons of greenhouse gases every year.”
“It’s time for politicians to stop playing games with my future,” said Logan Miller, a Jersey City resident and co-leader of the Hudson School Environmental Club. “Gov. Murphy says he wants to make New Jersey run 100 percent on green energy by 2050. Let’s hold him accountable.”
Said Hackensack Riverkeeper Captain Bill Sheehan Sheehan, “It makes no sense whatsoever that a state agency wants to build new, unnecessary fossil fuel infrastructure literally a stone’s throw from where a decommissioned power plant is being demolished as we speak.There are much, much better ways to use that federal post-Sandy money than to plop a carbon-spewing monstrosity in a floodplain.”
“Pollution from the plant would impact environmental justice communities in Kearny, Newark, Jersey City, Hoboken, and beyond, putting people at risk,” said Paula Rogovin, chairperson of the Coalition to Ban Unsafe Oil Trains. “The power plant would be built next to the CSX ‘bomb’ trains at the heavily toxic former Koppers Coke site next to the Hackensack River. A train derailment could mean death to, not 47 people as in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, but potentially thousands of people in the blast zone. Time for the governor to get on board with Renewable Energy RAIL.”
Environmental groups and communities have been organizing to get local councils to pass resolutions against the project. Eight cities, including Jersey City, Fort Lee, Kearny and Hoboken, have done just that.
“… Now we’re going to take the fight into the streams and streets we’re looking to protect,” said Michael Watson of The Climate Mobilization Hoboken.
Liz Ndoye, president of Hoboken MoveOn and Hoboken Resist, said, “This power plant would negatively impact residents of Secaucus, Kearny, Newark, Jersey City, and Hoboken, who are already suffering from environmental injustice. They should adopt a solar/wind powered transit grid.”
“[Power distribution] should be the focus of this project, either by tapping into available power sources or by laying the groundwork for a renewable energy source,” said State Senate Majority Leader (D-38th) Loretta Weinberg. “If we build a new natural gas power plant today, we’ll be living with it into the 2060s. What a terrible inheritance to leave for future generations!”
Construction on the plant is set to begin in 2021.
For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.