Monday, May 17, 2010

Port Authority Statement: Brooklyn Residents, the Ships are Killing You. Health Costs approaching $9 million per Year.

I've encouraged you before to pay attention to the admittedly mind-numbing and long-winded process that has been taking place at the Public Service Commission (PSC), the outcome of which should set a "tariff" (rate of electricity supply), supplied by Con Edison, that is economically viable for the cruise ships to hook up to "shore power" at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal (BCT). This will allow them to stop "idling" constantly while in port, turning off their extra-dirty diesel burning engines in a practice called "cold ironing". This electricity rate, once set, could also apply to other locations and provide the potential for the establishment of "shore power" throughout the Ports of New York (and possibly beyond) to be used by all different types of ships - like the container and cargo ships that also idle in port, using the same extra-dirty diesel that the cruise ships do - thereby encouraging the wider practice of "cold ironing" and achieving air quality and health improvements on a much broader scale.

The process at the PSC has been hard to follow, from their initial refusal to make any ruling on this case in April 2009, saying it was basically outside of their jurisdiction (making the assertion that it was the New York Power Authority, not Con Edison, that supplied electricity to the Port Authority owned piers on which the Cruise Terminal operates). Then, earlier this year, in an apparent contradiction of this initial statement, they accepted the case, asking for "public comment" etc., (my post here) but with no resolution as yet, as far as I can see.

I happened to bump into a couple of people over this last week who have been following the case closely, and their take on the process was not that reassuring. One person referred to the PSC as being something like "the Kremlin", (archaic, impenetrable and secretive perhaps?), and another with some inside knowledge saying it was "typical Albany" - not very reassuring considering the recent news (here) that another Albany based agency, the State's Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), had been aware of the dangerously high levels of PCBs at the Red Hook Ball Fields for nearly a decade, but had neglected to pass that information on to the City of New York and the Parks Department, let alone the Latin American food vendors, soccer players and visitors who have been using that park for many, many years. It seems that the Public Service Commission, like this other Albany based agency, despite the urgent and important statements made by the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) at that initial hearing where the case was strangely proclaimed to be out of the PSC's jurisdiction, is not exactly viewing this case with the importance and urgency that is required. (The important EPA statements presented at that initial hearing are permanently listed on the side-bar of this blog).

That prompted me to go the the PSC site and check out was was posted about this case - No: 09-E-0428. Link (here). There, among the many documents posted, were public statements in support of the creation of a Con Ed "shore power" stand-by rate from Council-member Brad Lander, Assemblywoman Joan Millman, The Columbia Waterfront Neighborhood Association and from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

All of the statements supported the establishment of the new power rate, noting the harmful effects of ship smokestack pollution and particularly their negative health impacts on the residents of our neighborhoods and the city as a whole, stating, as per Joan Millman's letter, that they "damage lung tissue, increase respiratory illness, suppress immune systems, aggravate breathing problems and asthma" and additionally that they "contribute to premature death for people with respiratory and cardiac disease".

Additionally, they noted that the air quality of the communities surrounding the port constantly "fail to meet national air quality standards" including levels of ozone and particulate matter.

All these statements were well and good and many points were ones we've heard before, but when I read the statement from the Port Authority, (click here), that's when things really got down to the nitty gritty.

The Port Authority, in a letter directly from their Executive Director, Chris Ward, had a whole section titled "Negative Environmental and Human Health Externalities".

Chris Ward's signature, above. Click HERE for a Google docs version of the full letter.

In the section I mentioned, above, Mr. Ward noted that the implementation of "shore power" at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal (BCT) alone would reduce the "harmful air emissions" that the ships visiting the terminal produce significantly (by 98% in fact) - 100 tons per year of SO2 and NOx each, and a reduction in particulate matter and CO2 by 6 tons and 1,500 tons respectively. He also noted that with an increase in cruise ship calls to the terminal (as is anticipated, according to statements I heard at a Port Authority Public Board Meeting last year), these reductions would obviously be greater.

Mr. Ward's statement went on to list in more detail the heath impacts of these and other ship emissions -

"According to the EPA's Health Effects of Shipping Related Air Pollutants", these pollutants will "damage lung tissue, causing inflammation and resulting in lung damage and reduced lung function, increased respiratory illness, and aggravated breathing problems; cough, chest pain, asthma. Even short term exposure to SO2 has been shown to irritate and restrict airways, increase chest tightness, and reduce mucus clearance. Studies of the health effects of PM (Particulate Matter) also show that particles damage lungs, increase asthma attacks, aggravate bronchitis, reduce lung function growth in children, increase risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease, and contribute to premature death and hospital visits of people with respiratory and cardiac problems."

Then Mr. Ward mentioned Red Hook and our neighbors, specifically -

"Due to close proximity to port pollution, communities near the BCT" (the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal in Red Hook) "face increased health risks, and have been actively calling for a shore power solution."

Continuing, Mr. Ward wrote about the matter of the health benefit/cost to our residents, in terms that everyone seems to take notice of - dollars.

"Using the Yale Air Pollution Emissions Experiments and Policy Analysis Model (APEEP)" Mr. Ward wrote, "we estimate that the annual health benefits emissions reductions arising from a switch from on board generation to shore power at the BCT, adjusted for Kings County, approaches $9 Million"

In other words, the annual monetized health cost of the cruise ships visiting Brooklyn on our community is estimated to be $9 million. This is the figure for the cruise ships alone, right now - not even taking into account the equally dirty-diesel burning container and cargo ships visiting the adjoining Container Terminal, nor any of the predicted increase in ships visiting the Brooklyn ports in the future.


Actually, that doesn't surprise me, considering the recent study in Charleston, N.C., that estimated the monetized annual health cost to the residents of the operation of their soon to be expanded port, the 10th largest in the country (the Ports of NY and NJ are the 3rd largest), to be $81 million (just to be clear, that's per year). You can only imagine what the entire yearly health cost of our much larger ports is on our much larger and more densely populated metropolitan area.

So there it is. They're saying it out loud. Ship pollution - It's dangerous. It's harming our kids. It's killing us. It's costing us and the city a sh*tload of money and there's a solution - a solution for the Brooklyn-based cruise ships at least, that would pay for its own implementation, in health care savings in our neighborhoods alone, in under two years. These statements are coming directly from the head of the Port Authority, the Big Kahuna ..... but what is the Public Service Commission doing or saying?

Cue: crickets

Mr. Ward states that the "status quo ... is not acceptable in the long term" and that the Ports of NY and NJ need to 'get with the program' in regard to greening their ports' operation, as is being done on the West Coast and elsewhere. The setting of the power rate will not only allow this to happen and encourage these money-saving and life-saving practices in all of our city's ports and communities, with all of the different types of ships - container and cargo, too - but will spur the adoption of these practices and spread their resultant benefits even further afield.

And as far as "getting with the program", thankfully the Port Authority is making a start and has committed money to getting this done at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, committing at least $8 million for the required infrastructure, plus receiving an EPA grant around $3 million to assist this plan. Also, the cruise operators, Carnival, have committed to retrofitting their ships at approx. $1-2 million each.

So what's the missing piece? The Con Ed shore power rate to make it happen.

Sure, we could insist the cruise ships hook up to the shore power, regardless of cost (perhaps covering the extra cost by adding an "asthma and morbidity reduction levy" to a glass of Champagne - charging 50c more, perhaps), or maybe Marty Markowitz, the terminal's loudest advocate, could come up with the difference in cost out of his office's budget. What about the NYC Economic Development Corporation (EDC) who, in 2006, brought the $56 million terminal to our neighborhood without "cold ironing" infrastructure, physical or commercial connection to the community, public space, aesthetic sensibility, nor even the ability to use the terminal building as a function venue when the ships aren't in - there's no kitchen, loading dock or even windows to look out at the harbor? Maybe the EDC could pay the difference until the wrinkles were "ironed out" (no pun intended) with Con Ed.

But the bottom line is, we're all going to pay for it anyway, in some way, so let's just get this done in the way that it is being pursued now - as frustrating and befuddling as that may be.

This should be an easy task. These entities - Con Ed, the PSC and other interested parties - they should be able to come to an agreement in the name of improving the health of our kids, at the very least.

If they don't sort this out quickly, shame on them, and perhaps the residents of Red Hook, the Columbia Waterfront, Carroll Gardens, etc., should take the advice of a friend and neighbor who, like many of us, is frustrated with this whole process. She suggested that we encourage our neighbors and their children to go to the Cruise Terminal at the end of our street to greet the next port call of the Queen Mary 2 ..... wearing gas masks, carrying banners saying "NO IDLING" or "Your ship's smoke is killing our kids" or "You Cruise - We Lose" ... you get the idea.

I wonder if Marty will turn up.


  1. Thanks for your crystal clear summary of this important issue. Sounds like gas masks are in order!

  2. Great post on the topic. I'll link to you article when posting about the 1/3 Rally on the Cobble Hill Association blog soon.