NJ Politics Digest: Will Murphy’s Question on Out-Of-State Benefits Impact Nuke Bill?

"I have to admit I always scratch my head when something is being done here that another state will benefit from."

Phil Murphy
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy. Flickr/Phil Murphy for Governor

They are almost a state apart, but Gov. Phil Murphy’s comments on a planned North Jersey power plant adds a new wrinkle to the saga of a controversial plan pushed by Senate President Steve Sweeney to force state ratepayers to pay more than $300 million annually to subsidize two nuclear power plants in his district.

Murphy on Tuesday said that while he knew little about a proposal to build a gas-fired power plant in the Meadowlands, he did question why New Jersey should host a project that will benefit another state—in this case New York, according to The Record.

“I have to admit I always scratch my head when something is being done here that another state will benefit from,” Murphy said, according to The Record.

While building groups support the Meadowlands proposal, which would generate local jobs in addition to generating enough electricity to power 1.2 million New York households, environmentalists are calling on the state to block the $1.5 billion natural-gas-fueled power plant. They say the plant would send electricity to New York City, while harming the state’s environment and hinder efforts to redevelop the Meadowlands area.

But Murphy’s skepticism could just as easily apply to a bill awaiting the governor’s signature that would provide $300 million per year in state subsidies to PSEG, which operates two nuclear power plants in Sweeney’s district in southern New Jersey’s Salem County.

The power company claims the money is needed to keep the plants profitable, though the law is written to shield the company’s books from public scrutiny and exclude the state’s ratepayer advocate from the process that decides if the company really needs the subsidy. Sweeney has expressed concern about the loss of jobs in his district if PSEG were to follow through on threats to close the plants.

In an earnings call last month, PSEG CEO Ralph Izzo said the subsidy could result in New Jersey ratepayers supporting nuclear power plants in other states that also provide power to ratepayers in other states.

“The bill simply says that New Jersey wants 40 percent of its power supplied by nuclear energy, and it does not limit it geographically,” Izzo said during the call.

That raises the question as to whether Murphy, who has not yet said if he will sign the subsidy bill, will apply the same logic to the southern New Jersey proposal—supported by the most powerful Democrat in the legislature—as he does to the plans for the northern New Jersey power plant.

Quote of the Day: “I have to admit I always scratch my head when something is being done here that another state will benefit from.” — Gov Phil Murphy, about a planned power plant in the Meadowlands that would send electricity to New York.

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