When it comes to clean energy, Gov. Phil Murphy has pushed New Jersey ahead of most states in the country, setting a goal of 50 percent renewable electricity by 2030, with aspirations to get to 100 percent in the two decades after that. So what is he doing issuing permits for a massive fracked gas power plant in the Meadowlands? It’s a head- scratcher.
That’s what the governor himself used to think. When news of this dirty energy plan surfaced, Murphy said, “I have to admit I always scratch my head when something is being done here that another state will benefit from.”
For those of us who want to see New Jersey lead the way on developing climate policies to protect the planet, Murphy has been sending some very mixed messages. The push to go big on renewable energy, for instance, was accompanied by a massive multi-billion dollar bailout of the state’s aging nuclear reactors. That’s not exactly a forward-looking policy.
And now we are confronted with plans to build several new fracked gas power plants. The biggest one is the proposed North Bergen Liberty Generating plant, which would be a major source of methane emissions (a highly potent greenhouse gas), would increase dangerous fracking in places like Pennsylvania, and would saddle frontline communities with increased air pollution. The facility will emit hundreds of tons of pollutants annually — including particulate matter and ground level ozone which cause chronic lung and heart disease.
While we don’t know what the governor makes of the Meadowlands plan, his administration approved a series of permits that give this awful project some momentum. Now that he is back from his family vacation, it’s time for the governor to explain how this project squares with his professed commitment to clean energy.
Perhaps he has made his peace with it by telling himself that since it’s going to send power to New York, it doesn’t represent a retreat from his climate-friendly rhetoric. That won’t wash. The greenhouse gas emissions cooking the planet don’t obey state borders, so any actions that double down on dirty energy sources impact us all. And, of course, the pollution generated by the Diamond Generating plant will overwhelmingly impact nearby residents who already live with the pollution from one of the state’s largest power plants, PSE&G’s Bergen Generating Station, which is located less than a mile away from the proposed site.
What we do know is that across the river, New York authorities are raising serious questions about this dangerous plant. The company wants to use the approval for a different transmission line to get around a process that would involve public hearings and greater oversight, but city officials are skeptical of granting them this waiver. And Diamond Generating will need a slew of other permits — from New York, the Army Corps of Engineers and other agencies. In the meantime, impacted communities are speaking out against the project, and as we spend more time talking to the folks who will bear the heaviest burden, we expect the opposition to become more intense.
Everywhere we look across the globe right now, from fires in California and Greece to heat waves across Western Europe, it is clear that the climate crisis is arriving with devastating power. New Jersey by itself cannot stop climate change but we can reverse course on what delivered us here in the first place. Governor Murphy previously stated that the devastation of Superstorm Sandy “was an all-too-real look at our new normal if we do not take climate change seriously. We cannot afford to keep our heads in the sand any longer … doing nothing is not an option.”
The governor is now faced with the responsibility of doing something. Stopping the Meadowlands power plant is one of his first, and most consequential, tests of his willingness to put his words into action.
Matt Smith is a senior organizer with Food & Water Watch, based in New Brunswick.