JERSEY CITY, NJ - The Jersey City Council stepped into the middle of a debate over a proposed gas power plant located in Kearny that would serve as a backup generation facility for New Jersey Transit in case of emergencies. In a resolution passed Wednesday the body called on Governor Phil Murphy to direct the state transit agency to replace the polluting proposal with a clean energy alternative for public transit resiliency. 

This action puts local lawmakers at odds with Hudson County officials who support the project because they say it allows the county to finally clean up and sell off the toxic Koppers Koke site, something they have been trying to accomplish for decades.

While approximately $10 million dollars has been spent to clean up the site over the years, Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise has said that the site is too small to accommodate any of the alternative power generating facilities that environmentalists propose, and the gas plant is the best use of the space. The site cannot be used for residential development nor even as open space such as a park or ball field, though warehousing and other industrial use could make it into a productive site again after decades of non-use.

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The NJ Transit plan calls for the construction of a natural gas-fired power plant to be used as a backup power source for NJ Transit Trains on a portion of the 130 acre peninsula on the Hackensack River, a property once considered one of the most toxic in the state. The plan also calls for construction of a high-tech warehouse.

For more than a year, environmentalists have been seeking to derail the project and have asked Murphy to halt it, saying that it would create pollution and runs counter to the Governor’s proposal to have the state embrace alternative power sources such as wind and solar generated power.

“We applaud the Jersey City administration for taking a stand against the dirty energy plant and supporting the well-being of our community,” said Melanie Segal, a Jersey City resident and board member of The Climate Mobilization Hoboken. “The welfare of our residents depends on Governor Murphy rejecting the NJ Transit fracked gas power plant and promoting a renewable alternative in line with New Jersey's own pledge for 100 percent clean energy in the next 30 years. We hope to see Jersey City continuing to take bold and necessary steps in the fight against climate change.”

The 140-megawatt facility in Kearny is one of the cornerstones of the agency’s NJ TransitGrid Project, a federally funded initiative to improve the reliability and resilience of mass transportation during weather events. The power plant would electrify the tracks and operating controls on NJ Transit’s Hudson Bergen Light Rail system, as well as portions of the Morris & Essex line and Northeast Corridor.

Environmentalists argue that the proposed project would be a major new source of toxic air pollution in an area already struggling with some of the worst air quality in the country. The plant is projected to release over half a million metric tons of carbon pollution every year. 

“Governor Murphy cannot have it both ways. If he is serious about climate action and building New Jersey’s clean energy future, he must stop dirty energy projects like the NJ Transit fracked gas power plant,” said Food & Water Action organizer Sam DiFalco. “There is no way to meet his administration’s own clean energy goals if he approves new long-term sources of climate pollution. And this proposal directly contradicts the Governors’ commitment to protect public health for our most vulnerable residents, which takes on even more urgency during the COVID-19 pandemic."

"If Governor Murphy means what he says about climate leadership and environmental justice, then he must stop this dirty power plant.”

Though the project is still going through the public comment period as a step towards approval, NJ Transit, saying that it will ultimately reduce the carbon impact on the environment by taking cars off local roads, hopes to start construction in 2021 and have it completed by 2025.

A similar facility already exists in Bayonne which is also gas powered and generates power for New York City power grid.

Environmental groups and local communities have been organizing informational forums, conducting outreach to directly impacted communities, and speaking out at board meetings of NJ Transit. This community movement seeks to stop the project, and to promote clean, renewable alternatives. Local residents and leaders in other towns are working to get their councils to pass similar resolutions against the project.  

In taking this action, Jersey City joins Hoboken, Kearny, Alpine, Ridgefield and Teaneck in opposing the project.

“This is a chance for Jersey City-- and the entire state of NJ-- to restore trust in government by insisting that NJ Transit look at clean renewable energy resources for this project,” said Steve Krinsky, membership manager of the Hudson Sierra Club. “Today's NY Times spoke of rising sea levels along the Atlantic Coast; we got hit hard this week by flooding.  Renewables help fight climate change and sea rise, create green jobs and protect our health and our environment.”

"As a young person fighting for climate and environmental justice, I am empowered by my fellow activists and I applaud the City Council's decision today,” said Logan Miller, a Jersey City resident and student at the Hudson School. “We are fighting for my future." 

The Koppers Company used the site from 1917 to 1979 and it contains a former tar pit and a coal processing area. The worst pollution, however, was done by Standard Chlorine, said DeGise. The Hudson County Improvement Authority (HCIA), which has long sought its redevelopment, acquired the site in the 1980s when then Gov. Tom Kean proposed that each county have its own incinerator for disposing of trash. When the idea was scrapped later, the county found itself holding a polluted site nobody wanted.

DeGise said his administration has been working aggressively to clean up the site, including by securing federal funds to improve one of the two docks on the property and a commitment from the state officials to create public road access to the property.

NJ Transit was going to use the property as a staging area for the ARC Tunnel project – a precursor to the more contemporary Gateway Project – which would build another train tunnel under the Hudson River to New York. But the sale to NJ Transit went sour when Gov. Christopher Christie withdrew from the ARC Tunnel project.

Miles away the nearest residential property, Degise has said that project would have no impact on quality of life and generate hundreds of jobs, both during the construction phase and later as the warehouses are developed. The power plant is expected to create 250 construction jobs and 30 permanent jobs. It would also, he added, benefit taxpayers by reducing the $2 million annual debt payment the county has to pay on the unused property.

“It’s a wasteland that can be productive,” he said.

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