Friday, March 12, 2010

Ships Vs. Trucks - It's the Sulphur, stupid! (and all that other nasty stuff)

We've had some good news in the last week or so regarding the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey announcing the first steps toward implementing a "clean truck program" at their ports, including Brooklyn's Red Hook Container Terminal. The Word on Columbia Street blog has a post (here) on the announcement from the Port Authority via the EPA (press release here). This is part of the Port Authority's clean air strategy that was announced in October 2009.

It's a welcome announcement, and one for which I'm thankful, having encouraged such a plan in my second ever post on this blog, (here). But when I say "first steps", it's because this is only the beginnings of what really should be a more robust plan to replace the dirty, older trucks with cleaner, newer ones, thereby reducing diesel emissions from those sources at the ports and in our communities while providing better conditions for the drivers.

As John Petro, Urban Policy Analyst at the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy, writes in this article, titled, "Killing at the Seaport: Port Pollution a Silent Killer" -

The PA of NY/NJ clean port program "isn't nearly as ambitious as it should be. The Port Authority currently has money available to replace 630 dirty trucks, but this is only about one quarter of the number of trucks that need to be replaced."

The overall "Clean Air Strategy" plan, in fact, which addresses mitigating pollution from all sources at the ports (trucks, ships, port machinery, harbor craft, trains, etc.), proposes reductions of SOx, NOx and particulate matter (PM) and sets a goal for reducing these harmful emissions by 30%. However, John Kaltenstein, Clean Vessels Program Manager for Friends of the Earth, writes this in his article in "Sustainable Shipping", titled "The Big Apple's big shipping pollution problem", comparing and contrasting the efforts of the East and West Coast ports -

"The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach (the largest port complex in the United States), however, set a more impressive benchmark five years ago, with a goal of 45% emission reductions by 2012. According to 2008 data, they have achieved 35% reductions so far."

Which brings me, again, to the ships.

The Port Authority's "Clean Air Strategy" seems fairly tame regarding mitigating pollution from the ships themselves. The main proposals seem to center around a "vessel speed reduction incentive program", some other incentives to use lower sulphur fuels in the ports, and the plan to have cruise ships hook up to "shore power" at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal and, sometime in the future, at the Manhattan Cruise terminals. It's all good, but there's no mention here of looking at expanding the use of "shore power" to container and cargo ships, as is being done on the West Coast and elsewhere.

Now, I hear you say, "but ships are the least of our problems".

An often repeated statement at meetings convened by New York City Economic Development Corporation and the Port Authority, when the plans for the expansion of the Red Hook container terminal were announced last year, (without Environmental Impact Study nor proposals for pollution mitigation at the port), was that "ships are the most efficient and cleanest way to move goods around the globe"... so, what were we worried about?

This is part of the common wisdom that shipping as generally "clean" and that the pollution that it creates, in the big picture, is not worth worrying about. In a recent NY Times article, "Slow Trip Across Sea Aids Profit and Environment", by Elizabeth Rosenthal, the subject is the speed reduction measures that shipping companies, such as Danish giant, Maersk, are undertaking in order to reduce emissions from their ships and to save money. This is called "slow (or super-slow) steaming". Again, it's a good idea, and one that reduces consumption of fuel and emissions from the ships by up to 30%. But what got me a little bristly was, in the article, when the writer states -

"Of course, mile per mile, shipping even at conventional speeds is far more efficient than road travel. Shipping a ton of toys from Shanghai to northern Germany churns out lower emissions than trucking them south to Berlin afterward."

But which emissions - and where do they have their impact? The concerns regarding shipping relate not to only to its overall polluting impacts on the globe - which some argue are not worth worrying about - but to the impact that shipping pollution has locally on the cities and contiguous port communities in which ships dock.

It's true that shipping any given tonnage of goods over a long distance is more energy efficient and creates less greenhouse gasses (mainly CO2) than trucks would. It's also important to acknowledge that the impact of ships' CO2 emissions is still substantial, and efforts to reduce shipping's contribution to CO2 emissions should be of extremely high importance.

This, from Marc Gunther at "The Energy Collective" (here) -

According to Richard Branson’s new NGO, which is called the Carbon War Room, the global shipping fleet is the equivalent of the sixth most polluting country in the world:

Annual CO2 emissions currently exceed one million tons and are projected to grow to 18% of all manmade CO2 emissions by 2050. Yet existing technology presents an opportunity for up to 75% gains in efficiency, with required investments repaid in just a few years.

Perhaps this is what he's talking about - (article here)

Still, ton-for-ton, shipping does create less CO2 than trucks or trains, and no-one gets sick or dies from inhaling CO2, right? - at least at these concentrations.

The real villains in the shipping pollution story, from the point of view of their negative impact on the health of humans - particularly on residents of port communities and their home cities - are the other pollutants :- Sulphur Oxides (SOx), Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) and particulate matter (PM).

These are the substances that the EPA described as "likely carcinogens" that also contribute to asthma, other lung and heart disease (among others) and contribute to the creation of smog. These are the substances that are created by the burning of extra-dirty diesel, as ships currently do while idling in port and at sea, at concentrations far above that of truck and train pollution with sulphur at levels up to 2000 times more than regular diesel. This is one of the reasons there are cancer clusters around ports, globally.

At the Ports of New York and New Jersey, the contribution of ships to the total pollution created by the port are as follows (by their own 2006 numbers) -

Ocean-going Vessels (ships)

SOx - 91%
NOx - 47%
Particulates - 62%
CO2 - 33%

As a comparison, here is the contribution from trucks -

Heavy-Duty Diesel Vehicles (trucks)

SOx - 1%
NOx - 25%
Particulate - 12%
CO2 - 37%

So, even though there's the recognition that truck pollution is a big problem that needs to be urgently addressed, it's clearly the ships that are creating the lion's share of the non-CO2 pollution - particularly when it comes to Sulphur, with a 91% contribution, and particulates with 62%.

John Kaltenstein's aforementioned article, noting that business at the Ports of NY and NJ has grown 100% since 1998, and is projected to double by 2020, puts the impact of these ship emissions in stark relief -

"EPA estimates that, in 2002, marine vessels in the port complex produced about 7,200 metric tonnes of nitrogen oxide, 570 metric tonnes of fine particulate matter, and 4,600 metric tonnes of sulphur dioxide.

A report from Environmental Defense Fund asserts that these ship emissions are equivalent to the emissions from 7.8 million new cars. Moreover, a recent study commissioned by the Coastal Conservation League finds that air emissions from an expanded Charleston, SC port could result in up to $81 million per year in monetized health costs."

This is something I wrote about here. John continues -

"Since the NY-NJ Port Authority dwarfs the Port of Charleston (Charleston has less than one-third the container volume of NY-NJ and less than one-eighth its cargo volume), its health costs, as well as premature mortality figures, are likely much greater." (my emphasis)

That's what we're worried about.

Yes, shipping is "more efficient" than trucks or trains - but it's really beside the point.

Shipping has a real responsibility to address its significant global impact - both with CO2 and these other dangerous emissions. When one of the world's biggest ships, in one year, creates as much SOx as 50 million cars - yes, 50 million! - it's a problem for the planet (check out this story). But additionally and importantly, it's the harmful health impact and resultant cost of shipping's SOx, NOx and PM emissions on the residents of cities and port communities that the shipping companies and operators of ports must address, and address urgently.

The Port Authority should be attacking this matter more aggressively. The "clean truck program" is a good start (a small but significant first step towards instigating a comprehensive and port-wide clean truck initiative and producing associated health benefits to the port communities). But the Port Authority's efforts on reducing emissions from the ships themselves need to be bolder. More initiatives moving toward the use of "shore power" at the container and cargo terminals around the area so ships can "turn off" and stop idling while in port. Strict regulations for the use of lower sulphur fuels in the area's ports and surrounding waters - preempting the U.S Government request, through the EPA, asking the International Maritime Organization to create a 240-mile emissions control area (ECA) - a pollution buffer zone - around the nation's coastline. (my post here)

This is what is needed from the Port Authority to ensure that ships truly live up to their somewhat ill-deserved environmentally friendly reputation. It's what's needed to reduce these emissions that the EPA describes as, "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."

So, good work of the truck front - but let's also deal with the elephant in the room.

The ships.

I'll leave the last word to Kim Thompson-Gaddy, a resident of Newark, Co-Chair of the North Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance and mother of three asthmatic children, who at Drum Major Institute's Marketplace of Ideas event, "Improving the Air and Job Quality at Our Nation's Ports" on October 14, 2008, discusses why she advocated creating a coalition to address the unhealthy air quality in the neighborhoods surrounding the ports of Newark and New Jersey.

Her words - "Environmental Health Injustice"

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