Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Hey Mike! It's the Container Ships, Too.

Thanks to Mike McLaughlan for his piece in the Brooklyn Papers today about the ongoing process of obtaining a "shore power tariff" for Red Hook's Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, to allow the cruise ships to "plug-in" to shore power when they're in port so they can stop idling their carcinogenic fume emitting diesel engines (For each container or cruise ship roughly equivalent to 12,000 cars a day/ship).

Great that he's drawing attention to the fact that the Public Service Commission kicked the ball over to the New York Power Authority (NYPA) , stating that this case was not in their jurisdiction as the Port authority gets their power from the NYPA and therefore they would have to decide on the case. Why the PA didn't know this fact and asked the PSC to hear their case anyway is a bit of a mystery - surely the PA knows from where it gets its power, right?

I do however have a gripe (a word Mike's previously used about me, as well as "groused" and "fumed" in this recent story - so I'm sure he takes no offense). My gripe is that the story hardly touches on the fact that the Container Terminal has recently been given the green light for expansion from both the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC) and the Port Authority itself.

Though there is mention of this in Mike's article, the piece doesn't shine light on the fact - one that I brought up with him, and have written about extensively on this blog - that nothing has been said during the recent planning for the Container Terminal expansion regarding the carcinogenic emissions from the container ships that this expansion will create. That is a little disappointing.

This was also the case with the the planning and building of the Cruise Terminal, when the facts about the dangerous emissions of ships, their impact on our most vulnerable, and the ways to alleviate these impacts were all ignored - leaving the residents of Red Hook, Carroll Gardens and Cobble Hill breathing the dangerous fumes until, 5 long years later, and thankfully, this recent commitment by the PA and Carnival Cruises to instigate the process to set up a shore power system.

So, NOW, after that debacle, and looking at this recent 20-year lease to expand the operations of the container terminal, the EDC and Port Authority has made no such commitment to the shore-power hook up for the Container Terminal. They have not committed to an environmental impact study, and are essentially saying to our residents, "suck it up".

The Port Authority is dong this deal, as I found out when I attended their recent Board Meeting, to make sure its "bottom line" is taken care of, with little regard for the long-term impact on our neighborhoods.

This is despite the fact the Port Authority and EDC have in their hands the alarming facts about the impact of ship emissions, which were presented as part of the PA's own case for asking for the shore power rate.

The facts that were presented came directly from the EPA, our Environmental Protection Agency, who as a non-active party presented them in support of the pro-shore power case.

Here are a couple of the more salient points made by the EPA.

(The rest are on the side bar of this blog)

"EPA comments as follows:

Ocean going vessels that dock in New York City typically burn high sulfur fuel in diesel engines to generate auxiliary power.

This combustion results in exhaust containing NOx, SOx and particulates and such exhaust is a likely carcinogen.

Such air emissions are harmful to the pubic generally, and especially to our children, the elderly, people with lung disease, those who exercise outside, and low-income and minority communities located near ports."

It was also argued in the case for shore power that -

"A shore power Tariff would reduce combustion of No 6 (sic) on ships and avoid significant air emissions and have positive environmental and environmental justice impacts discussed fully in EPA's comments"

Also noted was this -

"The possibility that a shore power tariff may be more effective for cargo ships instead of cruise ships is an issue that would be considered in the collaborative process."

(On reason for this, I'm told, is that container ships usually stay longer in port and "idle" for the whole time - AA)

So the Port Authority and the EDC knows that the container ships are just as problematic as, if not more than, the cruise ships, however they are hoping, again, that we won't notice and that they can get this expansion of the Container Terminal done hastily, without the Environmental Impact Study that is, if not legally, then at least morally required.

I say let's slow down, shine some light on this issue, allow for the facts to come out, and assess what should be done. Why are we rushing into this long-term situation, when the long-term detrimental effects on our most vulnerable are only just coming to light.

Again, we need more coverage of this issue.

Mike, and your colleagues - Over to you.


  1. Your entry reads as if you are castigating Mike McLaughlan and the Brooklyn Paper. The title alone challenges them even, though you open your statement with a gratuitous "thanks". Why take umbrage with what Mike's piece omits? An ally (especially in the press) is an ally, whether they are front-line warriors or behind the lines working mess-duty feeding the aforementioned. The last thing you need to do is put someone who is rallying to help your cause in a defensive position.

    Your angst regarding the situation in its entirety is duly noted and understandable, but your challenging of Mike and the newspaper ("Mike, and your colleagues, Over to you.") seems as if you're not fully appreciative of the efforts they’ve contributed. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if in the paper’s next piece on the subject, they didn’t mention you at all.

    We’re fortunate to have more than a few local papers who actually do more than distribute advertising, the Brooklyn Paper being one of them. From my perspective, your taking Mike and the Brooklyn Paper to task in your blog-entry takes away from the story at hand. It has led me to comment on your style rather than your substance.

  2. Steve,

    I'd be glad to talk to you anytime about this. The way I prefer, especially with neighbors, is person to person. Alternately you can email me, through which I could send you my phone number, or just email - my email is listed under my "Profile".



  3. The job of a newspaper reporter is to report the news. Here's mine. I've noticing how my family is coughing a lot. None of us are coughers...and I'm wondering if it has anything to do with the upswing in the ships-in-port that this season brings....

  4. I appreciate your activist spirit, but I wonder every time I see something like this, where you think the dockside power will come from (or the electricity that powers electric cars, or etc.). Basically, you're saying that the kids who live by power plants can have asthma so your own kids won't. Any plan that doesn't call for long term, clean energy solutions simply offsets the harm from one area to another.

  5. I'm totally with you on that. I don't want my quest for better air for my kids (although I hope you get the fact that my motives are not entirely as selfish as that) to come at the expense of someone elses. That's what I feel the PA has been doing with its "bottom line Vs. public health" equation - or lack thereof - in its plans for the Container Terminal, and previously with the Cruise Terminal.
    I know the statistics they show regarding the total reduction in emissions with the use of shore power, etc., come as a result of some gains in power plant output - and I'll try to get some figures on that - however my belief is that the power plant output gain is not significant and are generally more regulated. (I'd be happy if anyone could educate me on this).

    However, any gain in emissions is unacceptable, especially to those in close proximity to their production - as you said, the people living around the plants themselves - so I would hope that my ranting and raving about my particular area of focus, i.e. port emissions, is only indicative of a general sentiment to "clean up our act" in all aspects of our energy production and transportation needs - and the air along with it.