Tuesday, January 26, 2010

West Coast Action on Port Emissions. East Coast ... not so much.

(Container ship idling at Red Hook Container Terminal, Jan. 2010)

I've recently set up a Google news alert for "port emissions". You know how it works - Google will search the web for any news that contains the words you have selected, and then send the search results to your email address - daily, hourly, however often you would like. I also have "Port Emissions" selected as a customized "section" in my Google news page.

These are some of the headlines from the recent couple of weeks -

Five Years of the Green Port Policy - the Long Beach Port Transformed

Oakland Port Bans Aging, Emissions-Belching Trucks

Port of LA in talks to purchase zero-emission trucks

Port of Seattle cuts sulphur emissions

Cold-ironing to have electrifying effect on California port

Notice a trend here?

That's right. These are all stories regarding West Coast city initiatives to reduce harmful emissions from their ports by mitigating the impact of the carcinogenic, extra-dirty diesel smokestack emissions from container, cargo and cruise ships, and also through measures to reduce pollution from trucks, port machinery and other sources. Whether it be Long Beach, California, which has cut emissions from trucks by 80%, 5 years ahead of schedule, through their "clean truck program", or the Port of Seattle, where cruise ships can turn off their idling engines while in port by plugging into the city's electricity grid by the use of "shore power", or the Port of Los Angeles, which has been allowing container ships to plug into "shore power" since 2004, most of this good news has been coming from the West Coast.

These actions have been taken in response to the growing awareness of the dangers posed to human health from port emissions. I have written about these health dangers a lot in this blog - there are statements from the EPA about these matters on the sidebar of this blog - and you can do your own search if you're curious. However, there is one other matter I have not touched on in my writing on this blog - the human health costs - in dollars - of not dealing with port emissions. This recent extensive study, done in response to the proposed expansion of the East Cost port of Charleston, South Carolina, estimates the cost of the health care burden posed by the expanded port to be $81 million per year. Some of the headings included in the "Adverse Health Impacts" section of the study include - "premature mortality", "asthma-related emergency", "chronic bronchitis", "heart attack", etc.

In the newspaper in which this study is cited (above) there is also an opinion piece (here) written by William J. Hueston, M.D., president of the Charleston Medical Society, where he states -

"A new port, or any another industry with significant emissions, should do a cost analysis to determine the costs associated with remediating the air quality problems that they are expected to create. Just as a developer is required to add emergency medical services in order to build a large new subdivision, the port must examine the impact of expansion and add appropriate pollution control measures."

This in particular resonated with me, considering the expansion of the operations of the Red Hook Container Terminal, both in trucks and shipping, that is being created by the relocation of Phoenix Beverages to the Brooklyn Piers - all without any Environmental Impact Study.

The doctor continues -

"As concerned physicians who care for the health of our community, we must insist that the port industry address the air quality issue and its associated health care costs immediately. Otherwise, we can anticipate paying for the consequences with our limited resources, and ultimately with our own health."

So, it's obvious. Here on the East Coast, we're not really getting it.

That's not to say there's nothing going on. There is the action being taken to establish "shore power" at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal - though not at the Container Terminal. You can read my many posts on this subject at your leisure. Once it is up and running, Brooklyn will be the only terminal using this practice on the East Coast. There is also yesterday's news regarding the Ports of New York and New Jersey moving toward instigating a "clean truck program".

Here's the story -

Port of New York and New Jersey's Programme to Reduce Port Emissions

Here's an excerpt -

"Examples of these actions include replacement of the oldest and most polluting trucks serving the port, installation of shorepower capability at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, retrofit of two switcher locomotives serving the Port's on-dock rail operations with GenSet systems, and modernisation of cargo handling equipment used by terminal operators leasing space from the Port Authority,"

Sounds pretty good, but, as you can see, there's nothing about "shore power" for the container and cargo ships here. It's true that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is moving forward with "shore power" at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal and seems to be proceeding with plans to start a "clean truck program" at their ports. Both of these initiatives have been helped, I believe, through the recent EPA Diesel Emission Reduction grants, which are part of the broader Recovery Act, that were awarded to the Port Authority last year. My post on this story from July, 2009 is here.

These are the pertinent paragraphs from the EPA's press release regarding the grants -

Port Authority of New York & New Jersey – Shore Power Installation at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal ($2,858,200): This project will install the land-side electrical infrastructure necessary for cruise vessels calling at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal to hook up to shore power while docked, eliminating the need to operate on-board generators. Carnival Cruise Lines has committed to use the facility.

Port Authority of New York & New Jersey – Regional Truck Replacement Program ($7,000,000): This project will replace up to 636 model year 1993 and older drayage trucks that service Port Authority facilities with cleaner, 2004 and newer model year trucks by offering truckers 25% off the cost of the newer truck.

But my point is, there's nothing here or in the previous story in relation to the pollution from ships - no initiatives to encourage container and cargo ships to use "cleaner" diesel while coming in to port or while "hoteling" (this is the term used for when the ships are docked and idling their diesel engines), let alone any articulation of a path towards instigating "cold ironing" at the ports, where ships turn off their polluting diesel engines completely by plugging-in to "shore power".

This is despite the fact that it is the ships that are the main contributor to the diesel emissions problem at the ports. It is the ships that use the extra dirty diesel that creates emissions that have Sulphur Ox levels at least 90 times greater than the fuel used in trucks - more if the ships use "bunker fuel". The same goes for their creation of smog-forming, greenhouse gas, Nitrogen Ox, not to mention particulate matter at levels that threaten the health of those who breathe them in.

I don't have exact statistics for the Ports of New York and New Jersey, but as can be seen by this breakdowns of diesel emissions from the Port of Long Beach, it's clear that it is the ships that contribute the lion's share of the diesel emissions at ports.

It's also clear that it's the emissions from the ships that have to potential to be the most drastically reduced - in fact cut to almost zero - when the practice of using "shore power" can be introduced.

The "clean truck program" proposed by the Port Authority is a worthy one, and as seen by the success of such a program in Long Beach, can reduce emissions from trucks by 80% in pretty short time. However, without real action in addressing the emissions from the ships themselves, the problem will persist and the health effects and costs will continue to be borne by the residents surrounding the ports, and throughout the city itself.

What are the health effects of this inaction - what are the costs? The Charleston study, cited above, should give us some ideas. Charleston is the 10th largest port in the U.S., with the Ports of New York and New Jersey coming in third - behind Long Beach and Los Angeles. The port of Charleston moved 2/5 of the containers handled by the Ports of NY and NJ in 2006. So if the health care costs of their expanded operation is said to be $81 million per year, what is the health care burden and resultant cost to the City of New York and its residents? Only a comprehensive study, such as the one done in Charleston, will tell us, but surely it is huge.

Added to this is the fact that shipping activity is growing world wide. The Ports of NY and NJ will be seeing more shipping, and larger, post-Panamax ships (brought about by the imminent increase in ship size allowed by soon to be completed improvements in the Panama Canal) over the coming years. They are planning for it. The Ports of NY and NJ are dredging channels and looking at options for the raising of the height of the Bayonne Bridge to allow for these ships.

For an eye-opening look at how polluting these large ocean going vessels are, have a look at this article, from the English "Daily Mail" newspaper - How 16 ships create as much pollution as all the cars in the world.

This should be a big issue - not just for Red Hook and Brooklyn, but for our city and region as a whole. The fact that so little comes up in my Google alert on this issue, though certainly not a scientific survey, is telling. In our city, and seemingly on the East Coast in general, there is little coverage of this issue in the news - print, radio or TV - and not much more in blogs. I'm always coming across West Coast blogs and web sites focusing on these issues, and there are regular stories in the media on the actions those cities are taking in addressing the problems of port pollution. We, on the East Coast, are letting ourselves down.

Until there is more attention given to these issues here in New York, and unless the operators of our city's ports, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, take real action to, as the Professor from Charlotte stated, "address the air quality issue and its associated health care costs immediately" we can, again quoting the doctor, "anticipate paying for the consequences with our limited resources, and ultimately with our own health."

In other words, the reality for the residents of greater New York, courtesy of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, will be as shown in the photos below - taken by a resident of Red Hook / Columbia Street.

Ships idling their dirty diesel engines while in port, spreading their harmful emissions over our residential neighborhoods. Meanwhile, it's the residents, especially the most vulnerable, who will bear the burden of the resultant health costs - physically and monetarily.

Maybe the Port Authority could take a lead from the guiding principles of the "Green Port Policy" of the Port of Long Beach - as stated in the first article I linked to at the top of this post.

The Green Port Policy of Long Beach is based on five guiding principles:

  • Protect the community from harmful impacts of Port operations
  • Distinguish the Port as a leader in environmental stewardship
  • Promote sustainability
  • Employ best available technology
  • Engage and educate the community
The taking up of such principles by our Port Authority could be the beginning of a bi-coastal Green Port Policy and a welcome acknowledgment by the operators of ports of their responsibility to ensure their operations don't harm the residents in the communities of which they are a part, or impact their home cities with huge health care costs - on both coasts.


  1. I am in fever of this Green Port Policy and it's guideline.because a lot's of people suffers of the resultant health costs - physically and monetarily from ships harmful emission. Trucking Charleston

  2. Yes I agree with you that these types of emission are very harmful for all the living species.Its dangerous for health.This is very neccessary to aware people about these things.I also searched results related to Port Emission they really have enough information.