New Jersey residents are still cheering last week’s announcement by utility PSEG that it will close the Hudson and Mercer coal-fired power plants on June 1, 2017. The two plants are the largest remaining coal plants in the Garden State, and one of them - Hudson in Jersey City - ranked as one of the dirtiest plants in the entire country. These are coal plants #241 and 242 be announced for retirement since 2009, a major shift that has allowed the US to significantly reduce levels of mercury, carbon, sulfur dioxide, and toxic water pollution.
“The toxic mercury and air pollution from Hudson, as well as its location near a heavily populated and already polluted area had led the NAACP to cite it as the third worst environmental justice offender in the country in its ‘Coal Blooded’ report,” said Jeff Tittel, director of Sierra Club New Jersey. “Closing these plants will help the people in the region, especially New Jersey, be healthier, save money on health care costs and breathe a little easier.”
The Hudson and Mercer coal plants are also some of the largest generators of air pollution and greenhouse gasses in the entire state. Tired of the dirty air and water, residents had been fighting these filthy plants for years. Via grassroots actions, rallies, public hearings, legal challenges, political pressure on Governor Chris Christie, and more, people made their voices heard.
Thomas Schuster, a senior Beyond Coal campaign representative in nearby Pennsylvania, said another tactic in fighting the Mercer plant was working with coalition partners like Delaware RiverKeepers and Clean Water Action to highlight the fact that the plant was killing endangered Atlantic and Shortnose Sturgeon via its intake of massive amounts of Delaware River water. The lack of cooling towers meant the plant had to strain enough river water to kill tens of millions of fish annually! Our pressure on the state Department of Environmental Protection and federal agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency and National Marine Fisheries Service was close to resulting in an updated water pollution permit that should have forced upgrades at the plant to reduce fish kill as well as discharge of toxic metals. It seems that company officials saw the writing on the wall and decided the plant was not worth it.
For the Hudson plant, Schuster said working with nearby public officials - like Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop - to highlight support of the Clean Power Plan made a huge difference.
In the end, all that work helped show PSEG that the plants would never be economical again. “I think a lot of credit for these plants going down also goes to the work being done in both New Jersey and regionally to ramp up energy efficiency,” Schuster added. Since 2007, demand for electricity has dropped by more than eight percent in the state, and that means the older, more expensive plants like Hudson and Mercer are no longer necessary.
Schuster also credits the amazing number of activists who spent years fighting the filthy plants. He looks forward to making sure clean energy becomes the way of New Jersey.
“We are excited to be able to refocus our discussions on ramping up clean energy and efficiency to wean ourselves off the remaining fossil generation in the Garden State as quickly as possible,” he said. “We want to thank PSEG for making the right decision here, and for committing to keep the plant workers employed at the company. We’ll keep working with PSEG to find ways to invest quickly in clean energy and energy efficiency so we don’t get locked into decades of reliance on natural gas. We have so much potential for energy savings, solar, and offshore wind in New Jersey.”
This is important progress for New Jersey families, clean air and water in the Northeast, and our climate. And we still have more work to do, from tackling pollution from the remaining 281 US coal plants, to ending mountaintop removal mining, to helping diversify the economy in coal communities. Join us.