Children and adults call for environmental justice review of Newark power plant project

A coalition of health experts, environmental justice advocates and 9-year-old Destiny Tate met in the densely populated and heavily industrialized Ironbound section of Newark on Wednesday, calling on the operators of a waste treatment facility sewage to postpone natural gas combustion plans. -up power station.

“They’re trying to make more factories and pollute,” said Destiny, a ninth-grade student at Raphael Hernandez School, whose asthma is made worse by the smoke and foul smells she inhales from living in the ‘Iron bound. “People are sick and asthmatic, so they have to stop the pollution.”

The Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission, whose sprawling plant along Newark Bay treats wastewater from 1.4 million residential and business customers in northern New Jersey, is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the proposal Tuesday.

Specifically, the hearing is part of the PVSC’s application for an air pollution permit from the state Department of Environmental Protection, a key step in an ongoing process to approve and construct the $180 Million Factory.

The plant would provide backup power in the event of another catastrophic outage like the one caused by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. At the time, billions of gallons of raw sewage and only partially treated sewage were being discharged in the bay, what environmentalists called an ecological disaster for surrounding waterways.

But opponents of the relief plant say burning natural gas will contribute to the high levels of air pollution in the Ironbound. The area is already home to three other gas-fired power stations; a solid waste incinerator; and smoke from trucks, ships, and planes from Port Newark and Newark Liberty International Airport.

In January, Governor Phil Murphy, who appoints regional sewer agency commissioners, ordered a 3-month “pause” in the approvals process in response to local concerns. But the commission is now ready to resume the process with next month’s hearing.

On Wednesday, Destiny joined members of the nonprofit Ironbound Community Corporation, the Sierra Club of New Jersey and health researchers in calling on the commission to work with the community on a plan to build community resilience. plant without polluting the air.

Children and adults carried signs reading “Don’t Gas the Ironbound”, “Let Newark Thrive”, and “Clean Power Now”.

Dr. Nicky Sheets, director of the Center for the Urban Environment at Thomas Edison State University, said the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission should work with the Ironbound community to make its sewage treatment plant more resilient. Destiny Tate, 9, in a white jacket, said her asthma was made worse by pollution from industries already in the neighborhood.Steve Strunsky | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

Among those present was Dr. Nicky Sheets, director of the Center for the Urban Environment at Thomas Edison State University’s Watson Institute for Public Policy, which specializes in environmental justice.

Sheets, who holds a law degree and a doctorate in earth and planetary sciences from Harvard, cited research on the “cumulative impact” of prolonged exposure to pollution, which tends to affect African Americans and other minority communities with high levels of poverty.

“As we all know in the United States, when the subject involves race, it’s always difficult to deal with,” said Sheets, whose credentials also include a master’s degree in public policy from Princeton.

Critics of the power plant proposal want the PVSC to conduct a cumulative impact study, which would be required under a New Jersey environmental justice law approved in 2020. However, regulations under Law No. has not been completed and the plant is not subject to it. .

Last month, PVSC Chairman Thomas Tucci released a statement saying the agency was working on information that would include a detailed summary of the project, its history, changes, analysis of alternatives, measures to avoid or minimize the environmental impact and how it will benefit its host. community.

However, it was unclear whether these documents had been completed or made public. A commission spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment.

On Wednesday, Christi Peace, the governor’s deputy press secretary, released a statement saying the January break allowed the public to voice concerns in accordance with an administrative order from the Department of Environmental Protection in September.

The order, known as EO 25, requires a “mini review” of environmental justice issues surrounding ongoing projects. It was released as an interim measure as part of the development of permanent rules for the Environmental Justice Act.

The statement said Tuesday’s hearing “will provide a forum for meaningful public engagement that will be considered in the DEP permit application review process.”

“Our administration remains committed to avoiding or reducing factors that could contribute to existing environmental and public health stressors in overburdened communities across our state.”

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Steve Strunsky can be reached at [email protected]

Elna M. Lemons