Resilience clashes with environmental justice in the energy plan
NEWARK, NJ (AP) – Two of New Jersey’s declared top priorities – protecting the environment and preventing minority communities from being overloaded with pollution – are set to collide with a decision over a backup power plant that would enter active when a wastewater treatment system is taken offline.
The Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission is expected to award a contract on Thursday for the bulk of a $ 180 million emergency power project that would trigger during severe storms, power outages or cyber attacks.
It is designed to avoid a repeat of what happened after Super Storm Sandy in 2012, when nearly a billion gallons of raw sewage poured into area waterways as the factory has been disconnected.
But the plant is near a neighborhood in Newark, the state’s largest city and largely populated by minorities, which residents say is already overburdened with sources of pollution.
A coalition of environmental and community groups want New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy to reject the plan and order the commission to redesign it so it does not increase the pollution burden in Newark’s Ironbound neighborhood, which already has two other power plants nearby.
“A third is immoral,” they wrote in a letter to the governor they released this week. If the plant is built, “your administration will repeat the historic model of imposing unfair environmental burdens on communities of color.”
In front of the doors of the wastewater treatment plant, as tankers roared every few seconds, Maria Lopez-Nunez recalled the day in 2020 when the Democratic governor signed a law on environmental justice.
“Newark is more of a sacrificial area than a vibrant community at this point,” said Lopez-Nunez, deputy director of the Ironbound Community Corporation. The district takes its name from the railway tracks that surround it on three sides.
“Governor Murphy stood in this same city when he signed a law to prevent black and brown communities from being environmental dumping grounds,” she said. “We were his safety net when he narrowly won his election. Now we need a safety net.
Murphy’s office did not respond to requests for comment on Tuesday and Wednesday. In his annual state-of-state address on Tuesday, he cited the signing of the Environmental Justice Act as a highlight of his soon-to-end first term.
The sewage commission said its staff could not comment on the outstanding issues, but cited documents on its website to defend the need for the project.
Thursday’s vote is for a $ 142.5 million building to house the emergency power system. Other system components have already been purchased or built.
The back-up power station was originally supposed to run on natural gas only, which residents said would worsen the already poor air quality in the neighborhood. On a recent visit to the site, the stench of sewage hung heavily in the air near the giant outdoor treatment tanks. Residents say the smell often travels for miles.
The commission says it has amended the plan to incorporate the use of “renewable alternative green fuels” in conjunction with the combustion of natural gas, and if and when the technology advances to this point, using these fuels to replace gas entirely. natural gas.
Apart from emergencies requiring its use, the plant would only operate one day per month for testing and maintenance. The commission said the facility “experiences other power outages from time to time.”
Without a back-up power source, the commission said, the loss of power combined with heavy rains could cause raw sewage to back up into homes and potentially flood streets in Newark and surrounding towns, including Jersey City and Bayonne.
The commission says it has nearly all the approvals it needs for the project, only needing a review of the technical specifications by the State Department of Environmental Protection.
Lopez-Nunez said that even if the new power plant is not built, residents of the neighborhood will still suffer from the effects of pollution.
“You can smell this neighborhood; people are talking about it driving on the New Jersey Turnpike, ”she said. “One in four children in Newark has asthma. We have thousands of trucks passing by every day. Barges unload human waste there. Planes are constantly overhead. There are major highways all around us. We continue to be trampled. “
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