Home » First Lady of New Jersey, Democrat US Senate candidate, opposes power plant that husband could shut down

First Lady of New Jersey, Democrat US Senate candidate, opposes power plant that husband could shut down

by John Jefferson
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New Jersey’s First Lady Tammy Murphy, who is running for U.S. Senate, said Tuesday she opposes construction of a gas-fired backup power plant in a minority neighborhood already heavily burdened with pollution.

But she did not say whether she has discussed her view with the one person who could stop the project in its tracks — her husband, Gov. Phil Murphy.

And questioned by reporters afterward, she would not say whether she planned to try to lobby him to kill the proposal.

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“I am not speaking for the governor,” she said. “I’m talking to other people about this. I’m not here to stand up and speak for the administration. That’s not my role here today. With all due respect, that’s the end of the conversation.”

Tammy Murphy said she opposes construction of the backup power system at the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission in Newark’s Ironbound section.

The neighborhood is where her husband signed New Jersey’s environmental justice law in 2020 with great fanfare. The measure aims to ensure communities already overburdened by pollution are not forced to accept additional sources of contaminants.

“Families living in Newark are already disproportionately exposed to pollution and will experience further serious health risks as the result of this new gas-fired power plant,” she said. “For all residents of Newark, this power plant is a step in the wrong direction, and for mothers and babies in particular, it is extremely and unacceptably dangerous.”

She said New Jersey has made extensive resiliency upgrades to the power grid, which will help make other options more feasible.

The proposal has been pending for several years and remains under review by state environmental regulators.

In January 2022, Gov. Murphy directed the commission to cancel a vote on the project to allow a more thorough evaluation of whether the project would violate environmental justice law. But just three months later, the commission pressed forward with the project.

Tammy Murphy is seeking the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Democrat Robert Menendez.

Menendez is facing federal corruption charges and has not said whether he will seek re-election.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Andy Kim, who is also seeking his party’s nomination for the Senate seat, also opposes the project.

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“There is simply no need for yet another gas power plant in the city of Newark when renewable energy solutions are possible, especially at a time when so many residents in that community are already living with some of the worst air pollution in the country,” he said in an email to The Associated Press.

Kim also said such pollution “disproportionately impacts communities of color who are already too often put at risk by existing environmental hazards, and we should be working to transition to renewable energy solutions by utilizing federal funds like the Inflation Reduction Act.”

The sewerage commission has proposed a $180 million backup power project that would kick in during severe storms, power outages or instances of a cyber attack. It’s designed to avoid a repeat of what happened after Superstorm Sandy in 2012. When power went out from the storm, nearly a billion gallons of raw sewage spilled into area waterways while the plant was knocked offline.

A coalition of environmental and community groups wants the governor to reject the plan and order the commission to redesign it so that it does not add to the pollution burden on the neighborhood.

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Kim Gaddy, an environmental activist and a member of the governor’s Council on the Green Economy — whose honorary chair is Tammy Murphy — noted that the state’s public transit agency pulled the plug last month on a similar project in Kearny, near Newark.

“Black and brown lungs have had enough,” she said. “If the Murphy Administration and NJ Transit can pull the plug on a dirty gas plant just a couple miles away, as they just did, why can’t it happen here in Newark? Governor Murphy and PVSC, are you listening?”

The backup power plant originally was proposed to run solely on natural gas, which residents say would worsen already poor air quality in the neighborhood. The commission has said it has modified the plan to incorporate the use of “alternative green renewable fuels” in conjunction with burning natural gas, and if and when technology advances to that point, using such fuels to replace natural gas entirely.

A spokesperson for the commission declined comment on Tammy Murphy’s opposition. The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Without a backup power source, the commission says, the loss of power combined with heavy rain could result in raw sewage backing up into homes and potentially flooding streets in Newark and surrounding cities including Jersey City and Bayonne.

It previously said it has almost all the approvals it needs for the project, needing only a review of technical specifications by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

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