Tuesday, community members, students, and activists gathered in front of Camden City Hall to inform federal officials that the city “will not become the next East Palestine, Ohio.”
“Do not allow Camden to become a ticking time bomb,” read one rally sign. “No bomb trains,” another sign read.
Over a dozen protesters gathered in front of the Camden building where the city’s mayor and council meet to voice their opposition to a terminal project proposed for 200 N. Repauno Ave. in Greenwich Township, which involves transporting combustible gases from Pennsylvania to New Jersey via truck and rail.
The proposed project, led by Delaware River Partners, a subsidiary of New Fortress Energy, entails the construction of New Jersey’s first terminal for exporting liquefied natural gas, a flammable substance.
At a plant in Wyalusing, Pennsylvania, the gas will be fracked, or liquefied and pressurised. The materials will then travel nearly 200 miles by truck or train to a port on the Delaware River in Gibbstown, Gloucester County, where they will be transferred to ships destined for international markets.
Comparing the potential dangers of the proposed terminal to the recent train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, Kevin Benson, a representative for the organisation Camden for Clean Air, stated, “If an accident or derailment were to occur along the routes, an exposure more catastrophic than what occurred in East Palestine could occur.”
On February 3, 38 cars of a 150-car train carrying potentially hazardous, cancer-causing chemicals derailed in Ohio, and residents were ordered to evacuate because authorities feared the chemicals could have caused a massive explosion.
The Gibbstown project includes daily 100-car trains transporting liquefied gases, which Monday’s organisers refer to as “bomb trains” due to the increased risk of explosion if these trains derail and puncture liquefied natural gas containers.
Despite recent national interest in train derailments, the U.S. Department of Transportation reports that trucks transporting hazardous materials are involved in accidents more frequently than trains.
At the rally, organisers stated that a derailment-induced explosion was not the only environmental hazard that could occur if the Gibbstown project were to proceed.
Noa Gordon-Guterman, an organiser for Food and Water Watch, stated, “We don’t want more air and water pollution in Camden.” This community is already overburdened, and Camden has the third highest childhood asthma rate in the country.
According to the permit issued by the Army Corps of Engineers for the project, approximately 360 trucks will visit the port daily.
Organizations that raised concerns about the project’s diesel emissions estimate that approximately 1,650 trucks will visit the port daily, passing through cities in New Jersey, including Camden, that are already disproportionately impacted and polluted.
The Gibbstown terminal’s developers, Delaware River Partners, could not be reached for comment on the protester’s concerns on Wednesday.
Kinjal Mody, a junior at Rutgers-Camden, represented the nearly 300 Rutgers students, faculty, and staff who opposed the project in a letter to Governor Phil Murphy at the rally.
Mody, president of the campus’s student-led organisation Green Thumbs, stated, “This dangerous project is slated to traverse the city of Camden and impact the surrounding communities.” Rutgers-students, Camden’s faculty, and staff make up one such community.
This would destroy the school’s infrastructure, contaminate our air and water, and halt our education catastrophically. Mody stated, “We come to school to learn and grow, not to have our health and safety imperilled by an unnecessary fossil fuel export plan.”
While a court settlement in March halted the project for several months, a recent decision by the Delaware River Basin Commission will allow the $96 million Gloucester County terminal project to proceed.
The Delaware River Basin Commission extended Delaware River Partners’ permit in September, giving the developers until June 2025 to construct the Gibbstown export facility.
A federal representative and the governors of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, and Delaware, or their representatives, comprise the commission.
Murphy was not present during the 4-0 vote that extended the developer’s permit, but his representative was and voted in favour of the extension. The New York representative abstained from voting after the state’s motion to delay and thoroughly examine the environmental impacts of the project failed.
phil Murphy stated in a statement that his administration will “explore all avenues within its authority to prevent the use of this dock for LNG transport” despite the state’s vote to extend the permit and after a portion of the project was approved for construction in 2020.
Eighteen New Jersey municipalities have passed resolutions opposing the project and urging Governor Murphy to deny the necessary permits for the Gibbstown terminal.
Woodlynne, Princeton, Pennsauken, Runnemede, Haddon Township, Riverton, Hazlet, Merchantville, National Park, Palmyra, Barrington, Oaklyn, Voorhees, Swedesboro, Trenton, Burlington City, and Maple Shade are these municipalities.
Tuesday at City Hall, Camden community members urged the Camden City Council to also pass a resolution.
The agenda for the March 14 meeting of the Camden City Council does not include consideration of a resolution, and council members could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.
During the public comment portion of the March 14 meeting, rally organisers stated that they intend to once again request that council members pass a resolution.
For a separate permit to transport liquefied natural gas by rail, Delaware River Partners must still obtain federal approval from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
While the federal permit to transport these materials is pending, several organisations, including the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, have collected thousands of signatures on a petition to President Joe Biden requesting that he prohibit the transport of liquefied natural gas by rail.
In response to an order from former President Donald Trump, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration issued a federal rule in 2020 that lifted the long-standing ban on the transport of liquefied natural gas by rail for the first time.
In 2021, the Department of Transportation proposed a rule to halt the new rule on rail material transportation; a final decision is expected this month.
“We will not be the next Palestine, Ohio, or Toledo, Oregon, or Enoree, South Carolina, or Splendora, Texas, or Detroit, Michigan,” Anna Collazo, Rutgers Camden Green Thumbs student liaison, said in Spanish before switching to English.
“Make your voices heard by joining our movement and texting Camden to 23321 to urge President Biden to reverse the Trump administration’s decision to allow LNG transport by rail,” she said.