Newark’s Up in the Air Election
There is no public question in Newark’s May 10 election on the ballot on a controversial Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission proposal to build a $180 million gasoline-powered generator to supply auxiliary power to its Newark Bay processing plant.
Like much of Newark, the sprawling 172-acre PVSC complex is not under municipal rule where it exists to process human waste generated by 1.5 million residents in 48 municipalities across Bergen counties, Essex, Hudson, Union and Passaic which make up the Passaic Valley Service District, a kind of government in its own right.
According to an impressive coalition of nationally recognized public health experts, the plant, if built, would further compromise the health of the surrounding community, especially children struggling with some of the highest rates of asthma in the country.
Although this environmental issue does not seem to be part of the Newark campaign debate, it still causes a lot of concern from the community. According to the New Jersey Monitor, in a virtual hearing on May 3, more than 60 people, mostly community members and environmentalists, took three hours to testify against the project.
“According to public acts, the plant could emit up to 39,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide, eight tonnes of carbon monoxide and 4.6 tonnes of particulate matter in and around the Ironbound each year,” the independent news site reported. non-profit.
“Now in 2022 we have gone through a pandemic. The world has changed. We are on the verge, we are on the edge of our limits when it comes to climate change,” said Maria Lopez-Nunez of the Ironbound Community Commission, the news site reported. “We have seen that blacks and browns will die and are dying.”
Leading tomorrow’s poll, Mayor Was Baraka faces a challenge of Shelia Montague, poet and former public school teacher. In 2014, Montague supported Baraka’s first mayoral campaign, but became disillusioned with his pragmatic endorsement of school board candidates who were charter school advocates and privatization promoters.
Neither Baraka nor Montague responded to a question regarding their position on the PVSC factory proposal, which Governor Phil Murphy briefly delayed, then the PVSC sped up again.
In 2020 Governor Phil Murphy signed what he hailed as the strongest law in the nation to protect communities like Ironbound in Newark, from continuing to bear an unfair share of polluting infrastructure like incinerators and power plants. Historically, it’s places like Ironbound, where industry has left behind toxic waste and 21st century companies like the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey continue to contribute to the degradation of the quality of the air.
Throughout the pandemic, Governor Murphy has emphasized the importance of addressing wealth and health care disparities in the state’s communities of color like Newark that have been shockingly highlighted during the pandemic. According to a national economic analysis, carried out by the famous economist Jeffrey Sachs and the campaign of the poor of the Rev. Dr. William Barber. Newark and Essex County have had some of the highest per capita death rates in the country, with Essex County recoding 3,536 cumulative deaths, or 443 deaths per 100,000.
At a protest rally against the plant in April, Dr. Robert Laumbach, a nationally recognized physician who teaches environmental and occupational medicine at the Rutgers School of Public Health, said policymakers must hold account of cumulative impacts affecting the health of Ironbound residents that necessitated the “need to draw a line” where “any increase in air pollution was too great”.
“Think about that triple whammy – what you have is more at risk in certain communities like Newark where you have more susceptible people with pre-existing conditions like asthma, heart disease and diabetes that we know from a point of scientific view make more people susceptible to air pollution, and then you have interactions with these different factors, which can be more than additive, they can be synergistic,” Dr. Lumbach warned.
Negative vote, in the East district, where the PVSC factory is located, the long-time holder of the city council, Augusto Amador, retires. The four-way race includes Anthony Campos, for Newark Police Chief Louis Weber, the executive secretary of the Newark Police Department Liquor Control Unit Johnathan Seabra, whose family owns a local supermarket and works in financial services; and Michael J. Silva, retired Newark Police Detective.
Efforts to reach Campos, Weber and Seabra failed.
“The so-called ‘Plan B’ for the new Passaic Valley Sewage Commission site in the East Ward is still a slap in the face for our community,” Silva responded in an email. “This heavily polluted facility is not ideal for the health and well-being of our community. As a cancer survivor, I am very concerned about the cumulative impact this facility adds to our quality of life given that we are already polluted by our port, our airport, our traffic, our industrial areas, our waste incinerator , our sewage treatment facility and several power generation sites. Already used. As the next city councilor, I will take these environmental issues seriously, as this additional air pollution will have generational impacts on our community.
The issue of air quality in Newark was raised last month during the highly popular South Ward Council campaign debate held at St. John’s Community Baptist Church. With the retirement of council member John Sharpe James, headquarters are open in this district which shares some of the environmental challenges of the East Ward.
The field includes: Trenton Jones, a former assistant to the outgoing James; Terrance Bankston, a Clean Water Action organizer; Cynthia Truitt-Rease, James’ former chief of staff; Christina Cherry, former US Navy Seabee, with degrees in business management and psychology; and Douglas Freeman, who ran as a Republican for the Essex County Landowners Council.
In their responses to air quality questions, candidates referenced and aligned with the community organizing carried out by longtime Newark environmental activist Kim Gaddy, Clean’s National Environmental Justice Director. Water Action and a leading opposition figure to the PVSC power plant proposal.
“We are already meeting in our community,” said Freeman, who also described a plan he approved several years ago for PSE&G to install solar panels to install residential properties. “Teaching our children environmental studies, environmental awareness and also environmental trades. These are things that we don’t touch,” Freeman added.
The council, which is believed to be backed by Mayor Baraka, also referenced Kim Gaddy’s work and the community’s battles with the Port Authority over air emissions from its airport and port facilities. “We must continue to create legislation, not just on quality of life or air issues, but on environmental racism,” the council said. “It’s systemic. It’s structural and we didn’t invent it but we have to do something to change it.
Cherry pointed to the need for community engagement as a strategy to address the issue of idling trucks throughout the South Ward. “It’s my job to have a conversation with the community and find out how your family members who have asthma are affected and what you think you contribute to that,” she said.
Truitt-Rease also expressed support for Gaddy’s activism, pledging to work with her if elected. “I’m also passionate about this issue because I’ve had many friends who died from asthma attacks,” she said. “Now we’re dealing with oversized trucks parked in residential neighborhoods. Now we’re dealing with people fixing cars on our streets with oil leak, transmission fluid, whatever.
Bankston, who opposes the PVSC project as being “detrimental”, boasted at the forum, it had been approved by Gaddy, who is also his aunt. He described what he saw as the generational consequences of the city’s chronic air pollution.
“When it comes to asthma, the majority of our [school] absenteeism is due to asthma and partly to health care and partly to lack of health insurance and our students who have to stay home because they don’t get the proper treatment – schools don’t know how to deal with that,” Bankston said. “We even have to deal with that when our kids leave this environmentally devastating place and they go to college and they have respiratory problems and it’s all climate change.”
Whichever candidate wins, they’re going to find that there’s a real dynamic tension between what their constituents need and Newark’s elected officials to get concessions from entities like the PVSC and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. These agencies occupy large swathes of the city of Newark and are controlled by commissioners who mostly live outside the city, greatly insulating them from the pollution their operations generate and that Newark’s children must endure 24/7. 24 and 7/7.
“Nearly 70% of real estate in Newark, an incredibly high percentage, is tax-exempt because it is owned by the federal or state governments, government entities such as the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, or schools, hospitals or religious groups. » reported the New York Times in 1998. “These owners pay city fees in lieu of taxes, but city officials argue that the fees are only a fraction of what owners would pay if taxes could be levied.”
Larry Hamm, a longtime Newark political activist and founder of the nonprofit People’s Organization of Progressive, believes that most Newark residents have no idea of this “other system of government” that controls so much of their city’s economy and environment.
“And the average person can’t even tell you who the city council member is, let alone the senator or the state assembly – they can find out who their congressman is – but all of these agencies represent some kind of government that people don’t see,” Hamm said in a phone interview. “People are not elected to these bodies but appointed by singular people like the governor. work in government.
Hamm said the predicament of downtown Newark was not so different from that of Washington DC as the nation’s capital, where much of its destiny was shaped by people outside the district.
“Earlier, in the 60s, I even heard Martin Luther King use this term ‘internal colonialism’ for black cities in this position”, Hamm said.
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