Nj Transit Scraps Plan For Gas-Fired Backup Power Plant, Heartening Environmental Justice Advocates

Eight-year-old Sapphire Tate arranges signs before a protest against a proposed backup power plant for a sewage treatment facility in Newark, N.J., on April 20, 2022. On Jan. 26, 2024, NJ Transit scrapped plans for a similar gas-fired backup power plant in nearby Kearny, renewing calls for the Newark project to be abandoned as well in a community that is already overburdened by pollution. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)
Eight-year-old Sapphire Tate arranges signs before a protest against a proposed backup power plant for a sewage treatment facility in Newark, N.J., on April 20, 2022. On Jan. 26, 2024, NJ Transit scrapped plans for a similar gas-fired backup power plant in nearby Kearny, renewing calls for the Newark project to be abandoned as well in a community that is already overburdened by pollution. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)
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New Jersey's public transit agency said Friday it is scrapping plans for a backup power plant that would have been fueled by natural gas, heartening environmental justice advocates who targeted it and several other power plants in largely minority areas.

NJ Transit said it is redirecting $503 million in federal funding that would have been used to build the backup system, called the TransitGrid Microgrid Central Facility, to other resiliency projects scattered around northern and central New Jersey.

The backup plant was to have been built in Kearny, a low-income community near Newark, the state's largest city and home to another hotly fought plan for a similar backup power project for a sewage treatment plant.

“An intensive review of industry proposals for the MCF revealed that the project was not financially feasible,” NJ Transit said in a statement. “Further, since this project was originally designed, multiple improvements to the affected power grid have been enacted that have functionally made the MCF as envisioned at that time much less necessary than other critical resiliency projects.”

The agency said a utility, PSE&G, has made significant investments in power grid resiliency throughout the region that has greatly increased power reliability.

The move was hailed by opponents who said it would have added yet another polluting project to communities that are already overburdened with them — despite a state law signed in 2020 by Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy that is supposed to prevent that from happening.

“This is a victory for the grassroots activists who never stopped pushing the Murphy administration to reject a scheme to place a new fossil fuel project near communities that have suffered from decades of industrial pollution," said Matt Smith, New Jersey director of the environmental group Food & Water Watch. “They did not accept the bogus notion that a fracked gas plant could be a sustainability solution in the midst of a climate emergency.”

Paula Rogovin of the Don’t Gas the Meadowlands Coalition said sustained, widespread pressure on the transit agency helped lead to the project's cancellation.

“Today’s victory belongs to the thousands of people who marched and rallied, spoke out at NJ Transit Board of Commissioners meetings, signed petitions, made phone calls, attended forums, lobbied over 20 towns and cities to pass resolutions, and got over 70 officials to sign on a statement in opposition to the polluting gas power plant,” she said.

NJ Transit said the money will instead be spent on the replacement of a bridge over the Raritan River, as well as upgrades to the Hoboken Rail Terminal and the expansion of a rail storage yard in New Brunswick, where 120 rail cars could be stored in an area considered to be out of danger of flooding.

The transit agency's rail stock sustained serious damage from Superstorm Sandy in 2012 at low-lying storage locations. The backup power plant was part of a reaction to that damage.

Cancellation of the Kearny project immediately led to renewed calls by the same advocates for a similar plan to be canceled at the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission in Newark. That plan is still pending.

“If NJ Transit will acknowledge that their backup power system is no longer necessary, then we call on Governor Murphy to direct PVSC to do the same,” said Maria Lopez-Nunez, deputy director of the Ironbound Community Corporation, named after the section of Newark that includes the sewage plant.

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