N.J. implements new rules targeting power plants

Climate activists say the changes are not enough

By: - January 4, 2023 7:08 am

The new regulations target power plants seeking permits, renewals, or expansions in “overburdened communities." (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Regulations intended to tackle greenhouse gas emissions that have been slammed by environmental justice advocates as not aggressive enough were adopted by the state Tuesday. 

The rules require new power plants to keep their carbon dioxide emissions below 860 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour, ban the sale of certain fuel oil, and limit applications of fossil fuel generating units. 

A part of the Department of Environmental Protection’s regulatory reform package targeting climate threats, the new regulations aim at power plants seeking permits, renewals, or expansions in “overburdened communities” — places where residents have historically suffered from environmental racism, low-income or minority neighborhoods, or areas where residents don’t speak fluent English. 

Applicants seeking permits in those communities will have to submit a statement on how their plans will affect residents, and applicants will be required to hold public hearings. They also must prove a “compelling public interest” in the community housing the plant. 

The regulations were first proposed about a year ago and were the subject of a series of public hearings in the summer, where more than 250 people testified or submitted comments. 

Jeff Tittel, a longtime environmental activist, is one of numerous critics who say the new rule will not impact emissions in New Jersey because most power plants already function below the new requirements.

“The standard is so weak, it means they can continue to run with more fossil fuel and build more power plants,” Tittel said.

The Murphy administration has touted the 2020 law as “historic environmental justice legislation” and said it would allow the state to deny permit requests if a facility would create an undue burden on a neighborhood.

“The adopted rules are one of the initial steps that the department and other state agencies will take as part of a comprehensive scheme to mitigate the impacts of climate change,” the Department of Environmental Protection wrote in the rule published Tuesday.

A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the greenhouse gas adoption rule is tied to proposed environmental justice regulations. 

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Sophie Nieto-Munoz
Sophie Nieto-Munoz

Sophie Nieto-Muñoz, a New Jersey native and former Trenton statehouse reporter for NJ.com, shined a spotlight on the state’s crumbling unemployment system and won several awards for investigative reporting from the New Jersey Press Association. She was a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists for her report on PetSmart's grooming practices, which was also recognized by the New York Press Club. Sophie speaks Spanish and is proud to connect to the Latinx community through her reporting.