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Children and adults demand that the proposed Newark power station be subject to an environmental justice review.

Children and adults demand that the proposed Newark power station be subject to an environmental justice review.

Opponents of PVSC's backup power plant proposal

On Wednesday, a coalition of environmental justice advocates and health experts gathered in Newark’s densely populated Ironbound section to call on operators of a wastewater treatment facility to postpone plans for a natural gas-burning back-up power station.

They want to build more factories and pollute, said Destiny, a third-grader at Raphael Hernandez School. Her asthma is aggravated because of the foul odors and smoke she inhales while living in Ironbound. People with asthma are often sick, so they want to stop the pollution.

The Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission’s sprawling plant at Newark Bay treats wastewater from 1.4 million residential and business customers in northern New Jersey. It is scheduled to hold a meeting. Tuesday is the public hearing on this proposal.

The hearing is part of the PVSCs request for an air pollution permit from state Department of Environmental Protection. This is a crucial step in the ongoing approval and construction of the $180 million plant.

In the event of another catastrophe, such as Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the plant would provide backup power. Back then, the bay was filled with billions upon billions of gallons raw sewage, and only partially treated wastewater, which environmentalists called an ecological disaster for nearby waterways.

Opponents of the backup plant claim that burning natural gas will increase the Ironbound’s air pollution. Three other gas-fired plants are already located in the area: a solid waste incinerator; a solid waste incinerator; as well as truck, ship, and aircraft fumes from Port Newark International Airport.

In January, Gov. Phil Murphy, who is responsible for appointing the regional sewerage agencies commissioners, ordered that approvals be halted for three months in response to local concerns. The commission is now ready to resume the process with the next month’s hearing.

Destiny joined the members of the non-profit Ironbound Community Corporation, the Sierra Club of New Jersey and health researchers to call upon the commission to collaborate with the community to develop a plan to increase the plants’ resilience without polluting our air.

Children and adults carried signs saying, “Dont gass the Ironbound”, Let Newark Flourish, Clean Power Now.

Opponents of PVSC's backup power plant proposal

Dr. Nicky Sheets, director at the Center for the Urban Environment at Thomas Edison State University said the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission ought to work with the Ironbound Community to improve the sewage treatment plant’s resilience. Destiny Tate, 9 years old, is wearing a white jacket. She said that her asthma is worsened by pollution coming from nearby industries.Steve Strunsky | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

Among those present was Dr. Nicky SheetsDirector of the Center for the Urban Environment at Thomas Edison State University’s Watson Institute for Public Policy. He specializes in environmental justice.

Sheets, who is a Harvard lawyer and has a doctorate of earth and planetary sciences, cited Harvard research on the cumulative effect of prolonged exposures to pollution. This can have a negative impact on African-Americans and other minorities living in high poverty.

We all know that in the U.S. when it comes to race, it can be difficult to deal with, stated Sheets, who also has a masters degree in public policy from Princeton.

Critics of this power plant proposal demand that the PVSC conduct a cumulative impact analysis, which would be required by New Jersey’s 2020 environmental justice law. The law has not been implemented and the plant is not subject.

Last month Thomas Tucci, chairman of PVSC, released a statementThe agency said it was working on information that would include details about the project, its history and changes, alternative analysis, measures to minimize or avoid environmental impact, and how it will benefit the host community.

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It was not clear, however, if those materials had been made public or completed. A spokesperson for the commission did no respond to requests for comment.

Christi Peace was the governor’s deputy press secretary. She stated Wednesday that January’s pause allowed the public to voice their concerns in line with an administrative order from the Department of Environmental Protection issued in September.

The order, EO 25, requires a review of environmental justice concerns surrounding pending projects. It was issued temporarily while permanent rules were being drafted for the environmental justice laws.

According to the statement, Tuesday’s hearing would offer a forum for meaningful public participation that will be considered during the DEPs permit application process review.

Our administration is determined to avoid or reduce factors that could contribute towards existing environmental stressors in overburdened areas across the state.

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Steve Strunsky could be reached at sstrunsky@njadvancemedia.com

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