On Saturday, the Camden County NAACP Unit #2080 Executive Committee passed a resolution requesting that the New Jersey State Conference of the NAACP support the Camden branch, their allies in the coalition Camden For Clean Air, as well as other community groups and residents, by rejecting the Covanta trash incinerator microgrid plan.
Backed by the County Camden County Board of Chosen Freeholders, Camden County Improvement Authority, Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority, and City of Camden Planning Board, the controversial project ties a new microgrid to the dirty Covanta trash incinerator, therefore extending its life and continuing pollution indefinitely.
Planning documents show that the microgrid would be owned and operated by a private third party entity. County officials have not revealed the identity of this party, nor the means for selection of this party. Drafts of the plan list Holtec as a “Critical Manufacturing” beneficiary. In 2019, it was reported that Holtec is under investigation for fraud for falsified documents associated with their application for tax incentives. The CEO of Holtec also made racist comments about Camden residents in 2018.
Despite countless calls for a cleaner energy source to power this microgrid, various County entities and their lawyers, consultants and appointees, have suggested the dirty energy sources included in this plan are inevitable and have downplayed community concerns, despite Camden County’s long history of environmental racism against the City, and Covanta’s problematic record across the State.
The Camden trash incinerator burns trash from dozens of wealthy suburban towns in Camden- making it one of the most egregious examples of environmental injustice in New Jersey.
The effect on an incinerator in Camden City is serious:
A recent Harvard study has found that even a very small increase in a pollution called PM2.5 in the air was enough to cause a 15% increase in death from COVID-19. The incinerator is the number one source of this specific pollution in the county.
Another study featured in an online Guardian news report found that Camden’s school district was the third worst in the entire country for levels of air pollution.
According to data from the NJ Department of Health Asthma Profile report, Camden residents are almost 5x more likely than your average NJ state resident to visit the emergency room for an asthma attack. Asthma is also the number one reason for missed days of school in the country, according to the CDC.
Camden County, mainly due to the health disparities in the city Camden, routinely ranks near the bottom in the Robert Wood Johnson Foundations Annual County Health Rankings. Camden ranks last in one ranking specifically for air pollution.
“When it comes to the health of our children and our community, Camden residents can NOT wait any longer. The Covid crisis shows that our residents are more at risk for respiratory problems than wealthy, white suburban residents,” said Kevin Barfield, Camden County NAACP President. “Why the County continues to pretend this microgrid is anything other than a way to prolong the life of an antiquated trash incinerator is beyond comprehension. Camden County government is pushing this plan, yet again- a plan that helps white suburbanites get rid of trash cheaply, while Camden’s air is polluted. We say enough, and we say Black Lives Matter in Camden County.”
“We created Camden for Clean Air coalition with Camden’s future in mind,” said Manthu Tekna, a Camden resident and member of Camden for Clean Air Coalition.“For too long the County has been taking advantage of Camden City, and this must stop. We reject any plan that extends the life of this dirty polluter. We look forward to working with activists and County officials to see justice prevail.”
The project is slated for a feasibility study that advocates say should include an independent health and environmental and health impact study on the microgrid plan, as well as other requirements.