WAYNE PARRY Associated Press
New Jersey environmental officials said Thursday they hope to have a law that protects communities from excessive pollution in full effect by the end of this year.
Governor Phil Murphy signed the law in September 2020 in Newark, but rulemaking, public comment, and other procedures have yet to be completed.
Officials with the state Department of Environmental Protection said they hoped to approve rules setting out the specifics of the law by Dec. 31, which would mark when the law would be fully implemented.
Meanwhile, DEP Commissioner Shawn LaTourette has issued an administrative order requiring that current and future projects be consistent with its spirit and goals.
He said the ordinance had the practical effect of “placing us where the rule ultimately would.”
Murphy signed the law to prevent communities — often low-income minority neighborhoods — from having to bear the brunt of too many sources of pollution.
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“It’s a big deal,” LaTourette said during a briefing for reporters on the current state of the law. “We struggled with these difficult questions. We believe we have landed in the right place.
Because it is not yet fully in effect, the law does not directly affect one of the state’s most contested environmental justice cases, the proposed addition of a gas-fired backup power plant in a sewage treatment facility in the Ironbound section of Newark.
This neighborhood already suffers from multiple sources of pollution from nearby power plants, an international airport, numerous highways, and heavy truck traffic in residential neighborhoods.
LaTourette said he would not prejudge the application, which is already being reviewed by his agency.
But he and other DEP officials said the power plant and other candidates could take steps to reduce pollution in the area, including in places off their property.
In January, the governor ordered the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission to suspend a plan to build most of a $180 million emergency power plant, designed to start up when the main facility goes offline.
The commission has proposed measures, including adopting “state-of-the-art” pollution controls that go beyond the state’s own requirements.
The commission says it will only operate the standby power plant in an emergency and for basic maintenance only; in a non-emergency year, the backup plant would operate a maximum of 12 days per year.
The commission also scrapped a plan to use the emergency power plant on days of high electricity demand, which it says will eliminate 700 hours of operation. He also says he plans to install “all technically feasible solar power.”
It also plans to switch from natural gas to cleaner fuels as soon as possible, including the use of battery power.
The emergency power plant is designed to prevent a repeat of what happened during Super Hurricane Sandy in 2012, when nearly a billion gallons of raw sewage spilled into nearby waterways when the power plant disconnected due to lack of electricity.
The commission says that without the backup plant, streets in the Ironbound section could be flooded with raw sewage during a severe storm that cuts off power to the sewage treatment facility.
LaTourette predicted many legal challenges to the law once it comes into full effect.
“Lawyers will build entire careers splitting their hairs,” he said.