Sierra Club: NJ Transit Rubberstamps Meadowlands Dirty Power Plant During Health Emergency



On Friday, April 17, 2020, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and New Jersey Transit Corporation (NJ Transit) have issued a Combined Final Environmental Impact Statement/Record of Decision for the NJ TRANSIT NJ TRANSITGRID TRACTION POWER SYSTEM Project.


“It is outrageous that NJ Transit has approved the first major step in building their power plant in the Meadowlands on Friday. NJ Transit just rubber-stamped this power plant without looking at health and environmental impacts, which is especially concerning now that air pollution has been linked to coronavirus risk. Their EIS is deficient and doesn’t look at alternatives that we have been suggesting for months, like renewable energy – instead, this plan is more fossil foolishness. South Kearny and the areas around the plant already have some of the worst air quality in the nation, and this project will add hundreds of thousands of tons of pollution,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “This is not a power plant being built by some polluters, this is being built by the State of New Jersey and NJ Transit with public money. They are deliberately using the pandemic as cover to approve their dirty natural gas plant.”


FTA issued a single document that consists of a final environmental impact statement and a record of decision under 23 U.S.C. 139(n)(2). This means that the 30-day wait/review period under NEPA does not apply.


“They are pushing forward with their dirty power plant in the middle of the health crisis. This is at a time when a recent Harvard study and other studies have found a link between air pollution exposure and coronavirus risk. This plant will mean more air pollution and cause an increase of harmful chemicals like fine particulates PM2.5, NOX and SOx. The fact that they released the report late on a Friday to avoid public opposition and press coverage shows that they know how bad this project is,” said Tittel. “If the Governor allows this plant to go forward, he is full of hot air when it comes to reducing GHGs and impacts to EJ communities. The State of NJ is moving forward with this project even though it will emit over 383,000 tons of carbon dioxide and tons of other pollutants that directly affect people’s lungs.”


According to a new nationwide Harvard study, Coronavirus patients in areas that had high levels of air pollution before the pandemic are more likely to die from the infection than patients in cleaner parts of the country.  Harvard University analyzed 3,080 counties in the United States and found that higher levels of the tiny, dangerous particles in the air, known as PM 2.5 were associated with higher death rates from the disease.


“We had meetings and sent them alternatives for months, but they completely ignored that. In Europe, there are trains that are being run off of solar. We could be the first place in the nation to use solar power for trains. They could also use other renewable alternatives like tidal, hydro, or wind power as well as battery storage and flywheels. There are plenty of brownfields that can be linked and used for solar panels, as well as railyards and parking lots at train stations. Using microgrids would not be concentrated at a single point of failure for flooding or any other issue compared to a natural gas plant. Looking at clean alternatives is critical because this plant will run 24/7 because they want to sell power from it, so it will produce air pollution year-round,” said Jeff Tittel. “Seattle and King’s County, Los Angeles are utilizing energy storage instead of using fossil fuels because it is more reliant and cheaper long term.”


The grid will be powered by a 104-140 MW natural gas-fired power generating plant in Kearny, New Jersey. The NJ Transit grid would cost close to $526 million.


“Governor Murphy needs to step in and stop this project from going forward without looking at real alternatives. They want to call this a resiliency project, but it cannot be a resiliency project if they are burning fossil fuels. This project will add hundreds of thousands of tons of CO2 into an area that is already choking on pollution. The purpose of this project is to protect us from another Sandy, but building more fossil fuel projects will make another superstorm like Sandy happen again,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “Governor Murphy and NJ Transit should be looking out to protect the citizens of New Jersey by rescinding their authorization for this natural gas plant.”


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