Faced with strident opposition from community and climate activists, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy on Thursday intervened to stop a vote on a controversial fracked gas power plant in Newark pending further review of the project's environmental impact.
"Delaying this project is the right thing to do because new facilities should serve and protect overburdened communitiesnot increase harm and pollution."
Insider NJ reports that the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission (PVSC) heeded a request by Murphy, a Democrat, to cancel a scheduled Thursday vote on a contract for the $180 million plant in the ethnically diverse Ironbound neighborhood of Newark's East Ward. The Ironbound already has three power plants.
Murphy spokesperson Alex Altman said that "the pause will allow the project to undergo a more thorough environmental justice review and robust public engagement process, ensuring that the voices of the community are heard."
Maria Lopez-Nuez, director of environmental justice and community development at the Ironbound Community Corporation, said in a statement that "Gov. Murphy has reaffirmed his commitment to environmental justice by canceling today's vote."
"Our community needs a real process to evaluate alternatives to the power plant like the one N.J. Transit has initiated for their resiliency project right next door in Kearny," she continued, referring to the state-owned public transport system. "We need to bring in real resources and experts to find a solution that does not hurt the lungs of our children and in no way contributes to climate change."
Cynthia Mellon, co-chair of the Newark Environmental Commission, said that "delaying this project is the right thing to do because new facilities should serve and protect overburdened communitiesnot increase harm and pollution."
"We need a real process that centers robust community engagement to achieve a solution that protects public health today and a safe environment for future generations," she added.
The prospect of the new 84-megawatt plantwhich would provide backup electricity in the event of emergencies like Hurricane Sandy in 2012has ignited protests and other community opposition.
Gothamist reports more than 100 people joined a virtual meeting on Thursday at which PVSC chairman Thomas Tucci announced the vote would be suspended in order to "move forward in a realistic, responsible, and environmental way."
Local resident Michael Habib spoke at the meeting, saying: "I have a nine-month-old son. It's honestly scary to me to see more of this coming in. We already have dirty water and dirty air and it doesn't make sense to me."
"We're already overburdened so putting more on this community doesn't make sense," he added.
In a Wednesday interview on Democracy Now!, Lopez-Nuez said that "communities across New Jersey... have been dumped on, way before Murphy, for decades, by Republicans and Democrats."
"Our communities have been used as sacrifice zones. Here in the Ironbound we already have three power plants, three Superfund sites, fat rendering," she added. "During the Vietnam War... we had the largest production of Agent Orange. And it had a byproduct, dioxin, which is incredibly cancer-causing. That was being dumped into the river. "
"You name it, it's probably in our neighborhood," Lopez-Nuez continued. "We have thousands of trucks that serve New York City and the greater metropolitan area that barrel through the neighborhood to deliver things, putting that diesel pollution into the air."
She added, "A 4-year-old could stand on a street corner in Newark and look at the smokestacks and say, 'You shouldn't add one more."
Kim Gaddy, national environmental justice director at Clean Water Action and founder of the South Ward Environmental Alliance, said that Murphy has "demonstrated real environmental justice leadership" by postponing Thursday's planned vote.
"We have had enough," she said. "We cannot afford any new industrial smokestacks. Whatever their other intentions, they unavoidably poison our already too poisoned lungs and add to the climate emergency."
"There are better options out there for our lungs, our jobs, and our Newark Bay," Gaddy added. "We look forward to working with PVSC, the Murphy administration, and appreciate this pause to ensure we have the right process and get to the right result."
Lopez-Nuez noted that "our community is [a] majority Black and Latinx, working-class, immigrant community... And despite all of our socioeconomic issues, immigration issues, housing issues, we still fight to make sure that we're bettering our neighborhood."
"We have a vision for our community," she added. "We're just asking for a chance to fight for clean air and clean water."