Monday, June 1, 2009

Where's the Press on Port Emissions?

"British politician Edmund Burke said there were Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters' Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than they all." (Wikipedia)

I'm amazed at the lack of coverage on the issue of port emissions in the media.

As I've mentioned earlier, I've been aware of this issue since the planning of the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal nearly 5 years ago. In 2005, when I found out about the dangerous polluting nature of ships' smoke-stack emissions (both cruise and container) when idling in port and realized there was a way to stop those emissions through a shore-power connection (cold ironing), I wrote to the Mayor's Office to find out whether they were pursuing this process at the soon to be completed Cruise Terminal. Someone from the city wrote back that they weren't, at that time.

It was shocking to me considering the claim that they were building a "state of the art" terminal in Red Hook. Where was the not-so-state-of-the-art technology to make sure its operations weren't poisoning the locals residents?

I wrote a few more emails at that time to various politicians and to local newspapers, to no avail.

In 2007, when Mayor Bloomberg was talking about his PlaNYC initiative, I wrote another email asking whether, given the Mayor's espoused "green" credentials and initiatives - a big part of PlaNYC - he was pursuing these pollution mitigating practices at the ports in Red Hook.

In January, 2008 I got this reply -

Dear Mr. Armstrong:

Thank you for contacting Mayor Bloomberg with your concerns about emissions at cruise ship and container terminals. Here at the Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning & Sustainability – the office charged with the creation and implementation of PlaNYC, a comprehensive plan for the sustainability of New York City – we share your concern about the emissions from Port facilities, both air and marine.

One of PlaNYC’s 14 air quality initiatives is “to partner with the Port Authority to reduce emissions from Port facilities.” Indeed, 11% of local particulate matter and 13% of our locally-generated NOx come from these sources. Together with the Port Authority, we are developing a comprehensive air quality and greenhouse gas emissions plan. As you say, solutions include electric plug-ins at ports, clean auxiliary power units, and port towing. For marine solutions, Senior Policy Advisor for Air Quality, Carter Strickland, is discussing the logistics of a California-type legislation with Con Edison and shipping lines.

Hopefully we will get there soon.

James Hicks | Analyst, Long Term Planning & Sustainability | Mayor's Office of Operations | 253 Broadway, 10FL New York, NY 10007 | 212.788.1457

Also in 2007, I had written letters about this issue to the media, including the Brooklyn Papers and the Brooklyn Courier. Gersh Kuntzman, editor of the Courier emailed back saying his paper would get on the case.

They didn't.

Late last year I again tried to get the two Brooklyn newspapers interested in the idea of covering the story. I emailed Mr. Kuntzman who apologized and admitted they had indeed "dropped the ball". Still no story.

Earlier this year, after the Port Authority announced that they were going to invest in the infrastructure - at the Cruise Terminal only - and finally implement a shore-power hook up (after apparently only hearing about the practice, as the representative from the PA stated "a couple of years ago!!"), the Brooklyn Papers and Courier finally did a story. (Story here)

Jake Mooney from the NY Times also did an in-depth story on the ship emission issue, with a bit more on the City Room blog.

Charles Bagli, who covers port issues for the New York Times has done nothing on this issue.

Since the aforementioned articles by these journalists, there has been nothing more written on this issue.

The fact that in April the Public Service Commission was deciding upon the mandating of a shore power rate, one that would allow this cold ironing to happen at the Cruise Terminal at least, has not been covered in the press at all. If the media shone a light on this issue, wouldn't it at least shame the power suppliers into giving the port a cheap power rate - one that would allow for this practice to be economically viable, and to keep the carcinogenic smoke out of our kids' lungs?

With the recent lease being signed between the EDC and the Port Authority, the operations of the Container Terminal is now being expanded.

At the container port no commitment has been made to shore-power connection, nor a clean truck program, nor other pollution abatement measures with this expansion. Indeed, no Environmental Impact Study is required, according to the EDC.

Shouldn't the press be, again, shining a light on this very important issue - one that affects all of our neighborhoods - Red Hook, Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill and beyond?

Even with the coverage of the process, the press has been absent, allowing for the EDC and Port Authority to push their plans with the barest amount of scrutiny and public awareness - especially regarding the environmental and health impacts the expansion of the container terminal will bear on our residents. Politicians have also been absent on this issue, with not one speaking about it publicly, as far as I have seen, and no questions being put to them by the press.

It prompted me to write this letter to some members of the press, and blogs as well, as I've seen nothing about this on any of the big Brooklyn blogs either.

Dear members of the press,

May I give you a story line for an article?

1) - Announcement made that cruise ships will get shore-power (cold ironing) at Brooklyn terminal - Port Authority / Carnival Cruises are on board with committed investment for infrastructure and retrofitting ships, respectively. (you all covered this)

It is stated by representative of PA, at Public meeting at PS15, that the only obstacle to this goal is getting the appropriate tariff (power rate) from Con Ed to make this economically viable, with the hope to have it obtained via a Public Service Commission (PSC) hearing and decision.

2) - On April 27, 2009, the Public Service Commission meets, but decides the setting of this special shore-power rate is not in their jurisdiction, as the New York Power Authority (NYPA) supplies power to the Port Authority. PSC says the case should be pursued through the NYPA.

3) - However, in the case presented to the PSC in support of obtaining the shore-power rate, facts about the polluting nature of cruise and container ships is presented to the Commission.

This information, which follows in the excerpt from the attached PDF document, is supplied by (no less than) the Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.).

"Region 2 of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is not an active party. However it filed comments in favor of Shore Power Tariff.

EPA comments as follows:

  • a. Shore power is a crucial step for cleaning our air and improving health of New Yorkers.
  • b. 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.
  • A Port Authority study shows that use of shore power at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal would annually eliminate 100 tons of NOx, 100 tons of SOx and 6 tons of particulates
  • c. New York City air quality is among the worst in the nation and port related emissions are meaningful and avoidable."
  • d. Such air emissions are harmful to the pubic generally, and especially to our children, the elderly, people with lung disease, those who exercises outside, and low-income and minority communities located near ports.
  • e. Implementation of a shore power tariff is consistent with economic development in New York City.
  • f. Implementation of an appropriate Shore Power Tariff in New York City would provide an impetus for ship owners to invest in ship-side Shore Power equipment and for widespread use of this technology in other ports on the East Coast.
  • g. None of the Company's tariff's accurately account for the unique service characteristics of ships that dock in New York City.
  • h. A high-rate setting working group charged with delivering a shore power recommendation should be convened quickly.

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, "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."

Meanwhile, the NYCEDC pushes ahead with their plan, as Venetia Lannon described it, to "grow the container terminal" by relocating Phoenix Beverages to Pier 11 and the Atlantic Basin. Along the way the nearly unanimous call from Red Hook residents and small businesses for more input, consideration of the broader economic development of the neighborhood, including a call for a deal that would allow for the accommodation of Phoenix, the NY Water Taxi (with their current 100+ jobs, plus more added with their expansion) and Portside New York at that location are rejected. In their last meeting with the public, convened by CM Sara Gonzalez, after being left out of being notified about a lease being signed with Phoenix, concerns about traffic problems are given lip service, but the number of trucks still coming out of Bowne Street can't be given a percentage to, by the EDC. The Governor's Island Ferry is taken out of the plan, and the conversion of Phoenix's trucks to CNG is given a 7 year time-frame, with no goals to meet within that time frame. The EDC also admits that the public access component is "not a done deal" - despite this being a clear goal set by Community Board 6 when the use whole site - Piers 7 - 11 - were being addressed. This was before the 10-year lease to ASI, which would have surely addressed the call for maritime industrial use on the site. That fact that allthese parameters were being now used for the tiny remaining area is not explained. Even the considerations of broader economic development in the neighborhood are treated with a smokescreen, referring to the "Main Street" plan, being implemented by SWBIDC, a plan that many store owners say is more trouble than it's worth. What this has to do with the EDC's plan is not really clear.

Most egregiously, concerns about port pollution and its effects on our most vulnerable populations (remember the EPA statements?) are brushed aside by representatives from the Port Authority and the EDC. There is no commitment to implement shore-power at the container terminal.

No EIS is required, we are told. It is asked whether there is a moral obligation to assess the environmental impact of the container terminal expansion. No answer is given.

5) Wednesday last week - A board meeting of the Port Authority is scheduled for Thursday. We are given 1 day's notice. Public comment is asked for and a couple of us make time to register and attend the meeting.

6) At a public "Operations Committee" meeting I request to speak, but am told the time is at the Board Meeting

7) I register to speak at the board meeting, but the Board takes its vote, inexplicably before public comment is allowed. I am called to speak after the vote. John McGettrick is not asked to speak and the board meeting is closed, despite him registering and signing in, and being told he'd be allowed to speak in person. (The board even seems surprised by this)

Does anyone smell a rat here?

Do you see that the public health is being put at risk in the name of the PA's bottom line?

Is the health of our children an important enough issue for you all to cover?

Do the words "carcinogenic" and "harmful" ring any alarm bells?

this is an issue for all of our neighborhoods - Red Hook, Carrll Gardens, Cobble Hill, etc.

Want more background? - take a look at my blog.


Adam Armstrong

Here are some email addresses for your interest -

Jake Mooney, NY Times
Gersh Kuntzman -,
Buiso, Brooklyn Papers -
Brownstoner -,
Curbed -


  1. News 12 Brooklyn did a story on this also.

  2. Them boys in Bayside are the most dangerous and backwards of all. The city should toughen inspections for medical, psychiatric and vehicle reasons to cut down the number of congestion. This way, we will also get the voters against congestion pricing, who live in Bayside and Staten Island, to move away. Free health care means psychiatric care for all those angry talk radio white males! They are all overweight from driving around too much, burdening the city health system!