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Tammy Murphy opposes stalled Newark power plant

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Tammy Murphy opposes stalled Newark power plant

Feb 20, 2024 | 4:24 pm ET
By Nikita Biryukov
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Tammy Murphy opposes stalled Newark power plant
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First Lady Tammy Murphy speaking at at the Ironbound Early Learning Center on Feb. 20, 2024. (Photo by New Jersey Monitor)

First Lady Tammy Murphy announced her opposition to a proposed natural gas plant in the Ironbound section of Newark, a position that could put her at odds with her husband’s administration.

The Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission has for a decade urged the construction of a backup power plant near a wastewater treatment plant in Newark to keep the facility running during severe storms like Hurricane Sandy, which cut power to the treatment plant for 72 hours.

But the plan has drawn stark opposition from residents, environmental advocates, and some local officials who warn a new power plant, even one used sparingly, would further overburden the Ironbound, which already plays host to superfund sites.

“This part of our state already has three gas-burning power plants. It already has the largest incinerator in our state. And with the intersection of diesel fuels and everything else that’s happening, we’ve got to stand together, and so in my opinion, I stand strongly together with you, and I oppose the PVSC plant,” Murphy said at the Ironbound Early Learning Center Tuesday.

The first lady, who is seeking the Democratic nod for U.S. Senate this year against three competitors, made her comments as state energy regulators continue to consider whether to allow the power plant to move forward.

Though Gov. Phil Murphy blocked a planned vote on the proposal in January 2022 for an additional review of its environmental impacts, the Department of Environmental Protection has yet to preclude its eventual revival.

Spokespeople for the governor did not immediately return a request for comment, and Tammy Murphy declined to say whether she had discussed her announcement with the governor. She said she spoke Tuesday as “one person, an independent thinker.”

Under a 2020 law signed by the governor, the department can kill the project through permit denials if it finds the plant would have greater environmental and health impacts in overburdened communities than it would in others.

“Looking at asthma numbers, looking at infant-maternal outcomes, Newark is the epicenter, and we have to all come together and make sure that we’re doing everything we can to really, you know, put ourselves in other people’s shoes and try to help them move forward,” Murphy told reporters following her announcement.

Echoing environmental advocates, the first lady said advances in technology since the plant was first proposed a decade ago had laid the ground for a green solution. Regulators have expressed skepticism about how feasible renewables are for the plant, noting solar and wind power would not reliably function during severe storms and would require a much larger footprint to generate the same amount of power.

Some advocates have doubted whether the plant, if built, would remain a backup facility, noting an earlier proposal would’ve created a peaker plant — a type of power plant that typically operates only during times of high demand.

“All it takes is a different governor, a different DEP to change that condition and all of a sudden they have a peaker plant and they can operate it all the time with impunity,” said Maria Lopez-Nuñez, deputy director of organizing and advocacy for the Ironbound Community Corporation.

The first lady confirmed that Tuesday’s comments are the first public remarks she’s made about the Newark power plant plan. Asked why she’s weighing in now, she said, “Because I have been speaking with all these community advocates and it’s clear that as an individual … I can make public comment and that’s why it’s now.”

Murphy faces Rep. Andy Kim (D-03), labor leader Patricia Campos-Medina, and activist Larry Hamm in her quest for the Democratic nomination.

Though Lopez-Nuñez said she is enthused by Tammy Murphy’s support, calling it the most visible aid their cause has received recently, she said only time will tell whether the first lady’s announcement amounts to much.

“It’s only effective if she shows results. Words are not effective, actions are,” Lopez-Nuñez said.