Monday, January 11, 2010

Port Pollution in the News

When I first started this blog, it was in response to what I perceived to be the lack of awareness of the harmful effects of port pollution on our community - air pollution that is created by ships, trucks and the other activities of the port - and also to draw attention to the already available remedies and other mitigating measures to address this harmful pollution. So, I thought it apt to return to that subject as a way to start off a new year of blogging.

First, if you'll indulge me, a quick recap.

Until the NYC Economic Development Corporation started planning and building the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal in Red Hook (opened in 2006), I, and most (if not all) of my neighbors, were unaware of the harmful effects of the pollution that would emanate from the ships that would soon be idling at the end of our residential street. It wasn't till after researching a little that I discovered that cruise ships - and other ocean going vessels, including container and cargo ships - use an extremely dirty form of diesel that has sulfur levels at 90 times more than the fuel used by cars, trucks, or even trains. Some even use "bunker fuel", a form of fuel that has sulfur level one thousand times higher than regular diesel . The pollution that emanates from these ships is described by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a "likely carcinogen" that is "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."

At this time, as the terminal was being built, I also discovered that there was technology, already used in other parts of the world and being implemented on the West Coast, to allow these ships to "turn off" their polluting engines while in port - a process called "cold ironing" - by hooking up the ship to the electricity grid on land - "shore power". To my dismay, after writing to the Mayor's Office and others, I was told that this process, however, was not being considered at the $56 million "state of the art" cruise terminal. The ships would be "idling" while in port - the equivalent of 12,000 cars idling at the end of our street, per ship, daily - and while the cruisers on the Queen Mary II were sipping their flutes of Krug, the kids of Red Hook and beyond would be unknowingly sucking in their ship's carcinogenic fumes. The EDC and Port Authority, who owns the land on which the port operates, seemed happy enough to live with this "trade-off". It was all in the name of economic development - and no one seemed to be protesting. Yet.

After the Cruise Terminal opened, I wrote a couple of letters, asking for some coverage of the subject, to the Brooklyn Paper. Their editor, Gersh Kuntzman, said he'd "get on it", but no story materialized. The following couple of years were devoid of stories on port pollution in the local press, the New York Times, or elsewhere.

It wasn't till after the EDC's announcement in the first week of 2009 of their contentious plan for Phoenix Beverages' relocation to the Red Hook waterfront at the Atlantic Basin and Pier 11, and, by proxy, the expansion of the operations of the container port, including 200 more truck trips a day through our neighborhood, that the issue of the impact of port pollution came to the fore. Questions were being asked. How could the EDC be trusted with their assurances about Phoenix using less polluting trucks, and the environmental concerns about the expanded operation of the port being addressed, despite lack of an Environmental Impact Study, when they had been so negligent on those matters regarding their last big project - the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal? It seemed like the EDC and Port Authority were again brushing environmental and health concerns under the carpet (as well as other concerns about the overall merits of this plan) - as long as their "bottom line" goals were being met.

It was in the wake of these protestations that the Port Authority came to Red Hook's PS15, a couple of weeks later, to announce it was planning to implement the use of "shore power" at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal. They were allocating $3 million for the needed infrastructure, and the operators of the cruises - Carnival - were "on board" and were committed to retro-fitting their ships to allow them to use the "shore power". The representative of the Port Authority making the presentation was asked why it had taken the PA three years to get to this place. His response was that he'd only known about this process for "a couple of years" - a stunning statement from a representative of an entity that is called the "Port Authority". Was it believable that I known about this technology before them? Hardly.

There was also the matter of the container terminal and the equally, if not more, polluting container ships. Was the same pollution mitigating process being considered there? Despite some noises being made about the possibility from the ports operators, American Stevedoring, no real steps have been taken on that front. Nor has there been any commitment to a comprehensive "clean truck" program. All this remains to this day, despite the uptick in activity and resultant pollution that Phoenix Beverage's imminent presence at the port is going to bring.

2009 did, however, bring some further action on the Cruise Terminal situation. The process of obtaining an economically feasible (for the ships) power rate from Con Edison for the "plugging in" of the cruise ships went to the Public Services Commission. The PSC came back with a ruling that it was not Con Ed's responsibility to supply power to the Port Authority, so it could not rule on the matter. They stated that the electricity at the ports came via the New York State Power Authority, and it was with them that the rate should be negotiated. At the end of 2009, this matter was still unclear - New York Post story here - and, despite looking positive, was still a hurdle to jump in the process. However, during the PSC hearing, the EPA submitted some compelling evidence for why the establishment of shore power at the port should be vigorously pursued. The impact on the health of the residents surrounding the port was of prime concern, and the EPA deemed "shore power" to be "a crucial step for cleaning our air and improving the health of New Yorkers." Their other important statements are on the side bar of this blog.

In July, the EPA also came to the rescue with the awarding of a "clean diesel funding assistance" grant to the Port Authority that gave them a further $3 million for the building of shore power infrastructure at the Cruise Terminal (my post here). More money will also go towards the goal of having cleaner trucks servicing the ports of NY and NJ. As far as "shore power" at the cruise terminal goes, hopefully this grant will help the Port Authority have this process up and running by 2011, their stated goal - though many unnecessary tons of SOx, NOx and and particulates later.

Meanwhile, other broader pollution abating measures are being given some life. The EPA asked the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to create an Emissions Control Area - something being proposed by both the US and Canadian governments - that would require that, by 2030, all ships, regardless of nation of origin, create lower emissions in a buffer area starting 230 miles off the continental coastline. Reductions in emissions would range between 98% for Sulfur, 85% for particulates and 80% for Nitrogen. This is expected to increase air quality as far inland as Kansas, let alone coastal areas, and prevent up to 30,000 premature deaths. This request will be voted on by the IMO in March this year.

In December 2009, there was also the announcement that U.S. ships will also be affected by stricter diesel emissions standards being brought in by the EPA - starting 2011, for new ships, and 2016 for all ships.

EPA Administrator, Lisa P. Jackson, stated, (story here)

"There are enormous health and environmental consequences that come from marine diesel emissions, affecting both port cities and communities hundreds of miles inland. Stronger standards will help make large ships cleaner and more efficient, and protect millions of Americans from harmful diesel emissions," said Jackson.

"Port communities have identified diesel emissions as one of the greatest health threats facing their people – especially their children," Jackson said. "These new rules mark a step forward in cutting dangerous pollution in the air we breathe and reducing the harm to our health, our environment, and our economy."

Is there a more compelling argument for moving forward with these measures as quickly as possible? I don't think so.

The EPA's recent proposal (story here) for stricter smog standards should play into the goal of cleaner air from our ports, also. Nitrogen oxides (as are present in ship emissions) are a significant contributor to smog.

Overall, it's been a pretty good year for raising awareness of the dangers of port emissions. As I mentioned, the New York press was absent on this subject for a long time, but over the past year various journalists, from Gary Buiso at the Brooklyn Courier, to Mike McLaughlin (previously) from the Brooklyn Papers, to Jake Mooney at the New York Times, and others have done stories on the subject. I've linked to them in my various posts, and have been very grateful for the coverage they have given and the raised awareness their articles have created - resulting, I think, in the promise (though not yet put into action) of real progress - particularly with the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal.

To finish off here, I'd like to link to some recent stories about port emissions and the success some are having with mitigating these emissions.

As we move forward with this process, I think it's important to not only recognize the problems and dangers of port pollution, but to also see that there are solutions out there - real, available solutions - to mitigate their negative effects.

This from Colin Milner at the New York Times, "Reducing Emissions at the Ports" -

"The Port of Los Angeles, which in 2004 (hear that, Port Authority?? ... 2004! - AA) became the first in the world to provide Alternative Maritime Power for container ships, is expanding that effort" to include cruise ships.

This article also mentions the effort in New York to "bring shore power to its facility in Red Hook, Brooklyn.

There is also this recent article - "Port trucking fleet achieves clean-air goal nearly two years ahead of schedule"

This press release refers to the clean-trucks program at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach in California that has shown quick progress, with an 80 percent decline in diesel emissions expected by the end of 2010 — over a year ahead of schedule

Nick Sramek, President of the Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners is quoted -

“As proud as we are of the Clean Trucks Program’s success, it’s just one example of the many ways we are tackling air pollution at the Port,” Sramek said. “The locomotives, the ships, tugboats, cargo equipment – if it creates pollution, we’re working on a way to clean it up.”

I hope the NYCEDC and the Port Authority make it their business to work toward implementing these solutions - whether it be as part of any plan they have for expansion of the port, or regarding any further uses proposed for our waterfront. So far, their track record has not been good - preferring to push forward with plans and address their "bottom line" goals first, and deal with the pollution and negative health effects on the community later. Often, much later.

As awareness of these issues grows in the community, as examples are set here in the U.S. and abroad, as the press continues to shine more light on the facts, and as the EPA speaks out on these matters, perhaps the EDC and Port Authority will be compelled to do things differently in 2010.

Well, that's my New Year's wish.

1 comment:

  1. A dirty place can cause of many pollution, and therefore can cause many disease. great to know even the issue exist they still make a point to resolve it.