In June, the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission announced that it plans to reevaluate its current proposal for a new 34-megawatt gas fired power plant at its sewage treatment facility near the Ironbound neighborhood of Newark after community members and environmental activists from across the region opposed the plan.
Now, the Hoboken City Council is weighing in, unanimously adopting a resolution opposing the plan and calling on Gov. Phil Murphy to direct the agency to shift to a renewable energy alternative.
“This is an important effort to get PVSC to alter their priorities and embrace sustainable practices that will both promote environmental justice, locally, and help address the broader goals of working to reverse the impacts of climate change more globally, going forward,” said Councilman James Doyle.
The planned Standby Power Generation Facility (SPGF) was proposed as part of a resiliency project in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy to provide backup power to the facility.
The 2012 superstorm caused the facility to lose power, basic operations were not available for up to 72 hours, and billions of gallons of raw or partially treated sewage were spilled into the Passaic River.
Although community members and advocates agree that improving infrastructure resiliency is important, they call for renewable energy alternatives that will not increase pollution, particularly in overburdened areas like the Ironbound neighborhood of Newark and the surrounding region.
“I’m proud that Hoboken is yet again leading the way in fighting for environmental justice and advocating for our environmentally overburdened neighbors in the Ironbound section of Newark,” said Hoboken resident Liz Ndoye, of Hoboken MoveOn. “By supporting the resolution asking Passaic Valley Sewerage Authority to use alternative energy for their proposed power plant, the Hoboken Council has given notice that they will not tolerate environmental inequity.”
Last year, Gov. Murphy signed New Jersey’s Environmental Justice Law which requires the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) to evaluate the contributions of certain facilities to existing environmental and public health stressors in overburdened communities when reviewing certain permit applications.
These overburdened communities must have at least 35 percent of all households qualify as low-income, at least 40 percent of residents identify as a minority or as members of a recognized tribal community, or have at least 40 percent of households identify as having limited English proficiency.
According to the NJDEP’s Environmental Justice Map, the Ironbound section of Newark is one such overburdened community.
“If Governor Murphy wants to live up to his clean energy, environmental justice, and climate commitments, then he must direct his own agency to stop all plans for a massive new fracked gas power plant in the Ironbound, and to redesign the project with a clean, renewable energy-based source of power,” said Matt Smith, Food & Water Watch NJ state director.
“We commend the Hoboken City Council for being the first municipality to oppose plans for another fossil fuel project in this region. In order to protect our climate and the health of residents across our state, other municipalities must follow Hoboken’s lead and call on Governor Murphy to stop PVSC’s dirty energy proposal.”
According to the Sierra Club of New Jersey, should the project go forth as planned, every year the facility would emit 100 tons of CO2, 25 of tons NOx, 100 tons of particulate matter, 100 tons SO2, 100 tons of suspended particulate matter, and 25 tons of Volatile Organic Compounds.
Ndoye said this air pollution wouldn’t just affect Newark residents but neighboring Hudson County residents which, according to the American Lung Association’s 2019 State of the Air Report, received an “F” grade for air quality along with several other counties in the state.
“Hoboken is once again standing up for our lungs and environment,” said Taylor McFarland, acting director of Sierra Club New Jersey. “They are the first city to pass a resolution asking PVSC to use renewable energy alternatives for their proposed dirty power plant. Even better, Newark City is close behind. This is critical because moving forward with a dirty gas plant will add hundreds of thousands of tons of CO2 into an area that is already choking on pollution. Hoboken should be a model for other towns and municipalities to follow. More important, Governor Murphy should look at this opposition as an alarm bell going off. We thank the Hoboken City Council for putting people first before polluters, and we are glad to see a similar resolution moving forward in Newark.”
PVSC had originally ruled out renewable energy. PVSC consulting engineers evaluated the use of both wind and solar power but determined that due to the large amount of power PVSC’s operations require and the fact that the SPGF must be available for use at all times, no matter the weather conditions, these options could not be implemented.
But PVSC announced it will now host several more public and stakeholder meetings, wait to award a construction contract until September, and retain an energy consultant.
They also plan to host a “Public Alternative Proposal Day” in August to accept and discuss presentations from stakeholders on alternative fueling methods for the SPGF.
PVSC will evaluate the proposals by September to determine whether changes should be made to the bid documents.