Gary Buiso reported in an article in the Brooklyn Courier this week (here) that American Stevedoring (ASI) was looking at the possibility of instigating the practice of "cold ironing" at their container terminal on Red Hook's waterfront.
The article states -
“ASI, together with government partners, are working diligently to develop improvements, including cold ironing of vessels,” said Matt Yates, the director of commercial operations for the container terminal, which occupies Piers 7−10. “We are working closely with the city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC) to realize these important projects and will accomplish them as quickly as regulatory and logistical conditions allow.”
This was news to me, especially considering the recent comments made by Venetia Lannon, Vice-President of the EDC, at this month's CoWNA meeting (my post here) regarding their plans for the Red Hook waterfront - specifically Pier 11 and the Atlantic Basin. When asked about the possibility of container ships hooking up to "shore power" instead of idling in port, as is the plan for the cruise ships at the neighboring Brooklyn Cruise Terminal (a plan recently given a boost via a $3 million "National Clean Diesel Funding Assistance Program" grant awarded by the EPA - post here), Ms. Lannon seemed to echo the statements made previously by representatives of the Port Authority themselves - i.e. this was too difficult and problematic for the container ships. (This was covered in a previous Courier article by Gary Buiso - here).
The news that ASI is even looking at this possibility is welcome to those of us who were wondering when the owners and operators of Red Hook's Container Port, the Port Authority and ASI respectively, would start taking responsibility for the negative impact their operations are having on the health of their residential neighbors, particularly the most vulnerable.
Considering the 20-year lease the EDC has recently signed with Phoenix Beverages that will expand the operations of the Container Terminal - a stated goal of the EDC - an accompanying plan to reduce the increased emissions that will logically result from this expansion seemed appropriate and absolutely necessary.
The only problem with these recent revelations is, as has been the case with many of the statements made by various entities regarding their plans for the Red Hook piers, the qualifying language being used.
Statements such as "as quickly as regulatory and logistical conditions allow" don't exactly ring with the sound of immediacy, urgency or inevitability, especially when the "logistical conditions" have previously been described by the Port Authority as "difficult" and "complicated". Also, there has been no financial commitment made by the Port Authority thus far for the infrastructure required for this practice at the Container Terminal, as has been the case with the Cruise Terminal. As far as I know, neither the PA nor ASI have applied for any grants, such as the one previously mentioned, awarded by the EPA to the Port Authority, to assist in the building of this expensive infrastructure.
ASI would also have to get the various shipping companies using their terminal to commit to retrofitting their respective container ships in order to use the proposed "shore power". (This is a commitment Carnival has made regarding their cruise ships that visit the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal.) There is no mention of any discussions with the container shipping operators that use the Brooklyn Container Terminal in this article.
In fact in a recent WaterWire article (here), titled, (not exactly encouragingly), "Electric Power at Brooklyn Cruise Terminal Won't be Turned On for Years", the article not only goes into the ongoing issues still to be resolved with the implementation of shore-power at the Cruise Terminal, but the writer also asks the question of Port Authority spokesperson, Steve Coleman, why shore power is not being looked at at the Container Terminal. Mr Coleman's answer is -
"There are not enough container vessels calling at the Brooklyn Container Terminal that are configured to receive shore power to offset the high cost of installing the shore power infrastructure."
"Mr. Coleman added that there is no plan for air pollution mitigation because the ships docking in Red Hook are not violating emission standards."
The last statement is hardly heartening, considering the lax regulations regarding ship emissions (I'll go into this later) and their widely known negative health effects, however the rest of the PA's spokesperson's remarks don't exactly comply with the statements being made by Mr. Yates, ASI's director of commercial operations for the container terminal, that the implementation of shore power is being pursued "diligently" at the Container Port.
I do take exception to some of the other statements made by Matt Yates regarding the impact of the emissions produced by the port as the result of their operations.
Mr. Yates states that the port "provides an environmentally sound way of distributing the essential goods needed by city residents", and adds that the port "helps keep goods affordable for everyday New Yorkers".
While Mr. Yates is right that historically shipping has been seen as a less environmentally destructive way to move goods around, particularly over long distances, recent studies (story here) have shown that the impact of ship emissions have been greatly understated, particularly because of the unregulated nature of the shipping industry, with ships registered in foreign ports out of the reach of strict environmental standards. This has allowed the ships to use a type of diesel that is 90 times more polluting than any used for land based vehicles, the emissions from which are a known carcinogen and otherwise harmful to human health, a fact which has lead to broad global movement to curb these dangerous emissions. The known clusters of cancer around ports where ships idle in port emitting these substances day and night give real-life weight to these facts.
Mr. Yates' comments that a port used for recreational or ferry use is more polluting than a container port - because of the car traffic they produce - is an argument I've never before heard made, and one I would like to see backed up with facts. Anecdotally, I haven't seen anything written about this and I don't see environmentally aware citizens railing at the presence of ferries and recreational craft in their residential neighborhoods, as they have alongside their representatives in port communities all over the world regarding container and cruise ships. The single fact that one container ship in port, per day, idling 24/7, is equivalent to 12,000 cars seems to belie Mr. Yates' statement.
Regarding the affordability issue referred to in Mr. Yates' comments, I direct him to the comments of Bob Foster, the Mayor of Long Beach, California, who when weighing the cost of instigating clean environmental practices at his home port against the added cost to the shipping operators, possibly being passed on to the consumer, stated, "We’re not going to have kids in Long Beach contract asthma so someone in Kansas can get a cheaper television set.”
The one other word that stuck out to me, used by Mr. Yates, was when he stated that the emissions from ships were "regrettable". It makes the people affected by these emissions sound like "collateral damage", suffered and tolerated in the name of the better economic good. This is a notion that I, personally, find offensive. The fact is that even though Mr. Yates says that these emissions are regrettable, he doesn't mention that they are entirely avoidable. Mr. Yates states that the "port already uses environmentally sensitive electric powered equipment", however, as far as I know this only goes as far as having 2 electric cranes, with 2 more slated for conversion from diesel in the future. The containers are still moved around by diesel vehicles (though I believe there is a plan to convert these to electric in the future as well), and the trucks that carry the containers in and out of the port are obviously diesel. So let's not overstate the facts here.
The truth is that technologies have been around for many, many years to mitigate pollution at ports. Cold Ironing (the use of shore power) for ships - the biggest polluters , electric cranes and vehicles for moving containers, the implementation of "clean truck" programs. These are all means to reduce or even eliminate harmful diesel emissions from the air in our port cites. These are all practices that have been put into effect years earlier in other port cities, including many on the West Coast of the United States.
Not here on the East Coast.
It has only been in the last 6 months that the negative effects created by the emissions produced by the operations of the Brooklyn Ports have begun to have been acknowledged. The proposal to instigate cold ironing at the Cruise Terminal has come nearly 4 years, and many harmful tons of SOx, NOx and particulate matter after the opening of that $60 million "state of the art" terminal.
When this already funded proposal will become a reality we still don't know.
Regarding the assurances made by Mr. Yates about the similar proposal at the Container Terminal - I'm not holding my breath.
The truly "regrettable" thing is that the people of Red Hook, Carroll Gardens and Cobble Hill, have had to wait so long to see the representatives of the Port Authority, EDC and others consider them and their health to be more than expendable obstacles standing in the way of their economic and developmental goals.