Thursday, November 18, 2010

"South Brooklyn Post" Sheds Further Light on the Fight To Plug Idling Ships into Shore Power at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal

Today I was thankful to read the 'front page' story in the new on-line newspaper, the "South Brooklyn Post", on the battle in Red Hook, Brooklyn to get the visiting cruise ships to plug into "shore power", thereby turning off their idling, extra-dirty diesel burning engines in a practice called "cold ironing", at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal.

The story, "State Stalls on Brooklyn Air Pollution" by Lisa M. Collins (click here), was the first I've seen in the press on the subject in over a year.

Anyone who has been following this blog has read about the attempt to raise awareness of the facts of ship pollution and its remedies since learning about the issue in 2005, when the City's Economic Development Corporation was planning and building the cruise terminal at the end of my family's residential street. I attempted to do this first by writing letters to the City of New York, the mayor and other politicians, bringing it up at community meetings, then by starting this blog in early 2009 in an effort to push the issue further into the spotlight.

Over the last couple of years, there has been some decent progress in establishing this practice at the Red Hook terminal, with the Port Authority, EDC and cruise ship operators, Carnival, all offering commitments - financially and otherwise - to get it done. (my post here) But, as Ms. Collins notes in the article,

"the city and the New York State Power Authority are battling over the cost to subsidize Carnival Cruise ships for making the switch from idling with bunker fuel to plugging in and paying for electrical power.

Until the rates and who will pay them are determined, the project to build the electrical plug-in station is stalled."

Ms. Collins goes on to state that,

"The issue is a political hot potato—nobody wants to talk on the record about the rate dispute."

The reporting continues, referring to Michael Saltzman, spokesman for the New York Power Authority, who was unwilling to comment on the rate dispute other than saying,

“We do not have an agreement with the city,”

Also quoted is Craig Hammerman, District Manager of Community Board 6, who affirms,

“The funding is set aside, the only thing holding everything back is for the Power Authority to establish a rate. We would have expected that they would realize how important this is to the community.

“The stars are lined up to help solve this problem. We just have to get to the Power Authority to move this thing forward”

And that's where the press should be playing more of a role.

The last part of the article mentions this blog and its attempts to raise awareness of the ship smokestack pollution issue. This being a problem not only for the Brooklyn-based cruise ships, but with all types of ocean-going ships, every one which currently idles while visiting the ports of New York and New Jersey - whether container, cruise, etc. - producing total smokestack pollution that is equivalent to that created by 7.8 Million cars.

However, as far as getting this first step done in eliminating these dangerous yet avoidable emissions from our air - i.e. the establishing of "shore power / cold ironing" at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal - that cause could have used a lot more help in the way of coverage by the press - local or otherwise.

When the case to set a new shore power rate at the Public Services Commission (PSC) was stalled in early 2009 - yes it's been going that long - there was a little press coverage of the story in the Brooklyn Paper (here), and in a story and a blog post at the NY Times (here and here). But since then, there has been almost nothing - no significant attempt in the press to raise the awareness of the issue itself nor of the important facts that were coming to light in the PSC case, no pressure put on the entities that were dragging their heels, and, as a result, no help in moving this process forward.

When the EPA, in testimony given to the PSC at that early 2009 hearing in support of the establishment of this power rate, made such statements as this, regarding the unmitigated ship smokestack pollution -

"Such air emissions are 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." (and the other statements permanently listed on the side-bar of this blog)

... where was the coverage in the press?

When our local politicians, such as Joan Millman and Brad Lander made similar statements later, noting that these avoidable pollutants ...

"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"

... where was the story in the New York Times?

When the Port Authority, in testimony to the PSC in January this year, included this statement from their Executive Director, Chris Ward (full statement here) -

"we estimate that the annual health benefits emissions reductions arising from a switch from on board generation to shore power at the BCT (Brooklyn Cruise Terminal), adjusted for Kings County, approaches $9 Million"

..... in other words, that currently the annual monetized health cost of the cruise ships visiting Brooklyn to our community is estimated to be $9 million - that's roughly $150,000 per ship visit ....

.... where was the coverage in the Brooklyn Paper?

Couldn't coverage of these facts in the press have leveraged a more urgent response from the PSC, or pressured the New York Power Authority to set a rate that could work for everyone - including the residents that are still breathing in these harmful emissions?

On this last matter, regarding this staggering $9 Million figure cited by the Port Authority, after reading that testimony I did try to spread the word to local papers and in my blog (my post here) but was ultimately disappointed by the absence of coverage. I spoke to a reporter at the Brooklyn Paper who told me that he'd write an article about the subject, including these facts, but none materialized.

I happened to bump into that reporter recently, and he told me that he had written the story, but it hadn't been published.

I decided to write an email to Gersh Kuntzman, the editor of the Brooklyn Paper, to ask why this had happened, especially since he had recently interviewed a newly elected Representative and quizzed him about his lack of environmental advocacy, asking him whether lack of regulation could lead to a situation as seen in "other countries", where "kids are dying of pollution". His response to my question about the reason for not publishing the story about the $9 Million in annual "monetized health costs" to Brooklyn residents from the cruise ship pollution was not particularly reassuring.

He advised me to contact some guy at a PR firm ... not really sure why. Then he concluded with this statement -

"He handles all outside questions about our coverage. I am not authorized, unfortunately, to discuss such matters."

Oh well.

At least we have the "South Brooklyn Post".

Maybe their excellent story will help to shine a light on this agonizingly protracted process, the compelling arguments that are being made about the benefits of establishing shore power, and finally push the entities involved toward a resolution.

Then, finally, we'll have taken the first small step in ridding our city's air of these harmful, yet avoidable emissions.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Activity at the Atlantic Basin - Visit the Expedition Vessel "Wanderbird" - 4pm and 7pm Saturday, Nov. 20th - FREE!

This Saturday, November 20th, in an event staged by the NYC Economic Development Corporation, there will be the opportunity to visit the expedition ship "Wanderbird" while also vicariously experiencing the Arctic seafaring adventures of the hosts, Captains Rick and Karen, who will be sharing their tales through Q and A, photos and music.

The "Wanderbird" will be moored in the Atlantic Basin /Pier 11 at the bottom of Pioneer Street in Red Hook, Brooklyn - the stunning and historic location where PortSide New York held its successful series of events over the Summer (and its future permanent home). On Saturday there will be two opportunities to board the visiting vessel - one at 4pm and later at 7pm. The EDC has passed on the information that at 4PM there will be a show for the "younger set" that will be held inside the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal. Then, everyone can visit the boat.

And this good new from the EDC -

"All free including refreshments!"

So hope to see you there for this free, family friendly event. It's another opportunity to experience the waterfront that is literally at our doorstep. Another chance to see and imagine what more is possible on our waterfront. And, as an added bonus, it may be an opportunity to experience the Cruise Ship Terminal, that has been, up to now, mostly only accessible to cruisers .... (and 4,500 conference-attending rabbis).

Click on map for details (location is Red placemark)

View Atlantic Basin Event in a larger map

Thursday, November 11, 2010

DEADLINE: 5pm, Friday November 12th. Last Chance for Public Input on NYC's Vision 2020 - Comprehensive Waterfront Plan - Comment On-Line

5pm tomorrow, Friday November 12th, is the deadline for the public comment period of the New York City Vision 2020, Comprehensive Waterfront Plan. Comment on-line HERE.

After public workshops in all the boroughs and other city-wide meetings including those regarding the future planning for waterborne transportation in the city, something the Department of Planning is calling the "Blue Network", the public input period is drawing to a close.

Comments can be made on-line HERE till the deadline, 5pm, Friday, November 11.

The draft recommendations have been out since early October (my post HERE), so have a look at them if you haven't already, have a think about what you might want included in plans for our waterfront. More transportation? Better waterfront access? More connection to the upland residential and commercial communities? Creation of a connection to Governors Island? Better and more equitable use of publicly owned property - e.g. Cruise Terminal site, Atlantic Basin? More programs like the successful ones PortSide New York mounted over the summer? Cleaner and greener port practices like "cold ironing"?

Below is a summary of the draft recommendations for our stretch of the waterfront - click HERE to see a more comprehensive Google doc version (Red Hook is in the section on Reach 14 South).

Make sure you voice your opinion - this plan is set to shape the use of our waterfront for decades to come.

PortSide / Jalopy event on the Mary Whalen, Atlantic Basin, Summer 2010

Sunday, November 7, 2010

While Brooklyn and NY Wait, other Ports in the U.S. and Around The World "Plug In" Idling Ships, Ridding the Air of Harmful Emissions

Picture from Triple Pundit

Did you hear that there's a plan to begin to remove from the air in our city carcinogenic diesel smokestack emissions produced by ships - both container and cruise - that are currently idling while visiting our ports? Did you hear that the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal in Red Hook is going to take the first step of this plan, with the visiting cruise ships "plugging in" to the City's power grid while in port, thus allowing them to, in a practice called "cold ironing", turn off their idling diesel engines - engines that produce the equivalent emissions of 12,000 cars per day / per ship visit? Did you hear that the Port Authority has committed, financially and otherwise, to building the "shore power" infrastructure required to make this practice possible and has received an EPA Diesel Reduction grant to assist? Did you hear that Chris Ward, Executive Director of the Port Authority, said that plugging the ships in would save the residents of Brooklyn an estimated $9 Million per year in "monetized health costs" - you know, in cancer, premature death, asthma, heart disease, etc? Did you hear that the cruise ship operators, Carnival, have committed to retrofitting their ships to accept "shore power"?

Did you also hear that the power supplier - Con Edison or the NY Power Authority (which one of these entities supplies power to the Port Authority is still unclear to me) - doesn't want to supply a power rate that would make this practice viable, and that the Public Service Commission, which can set rates from utilities, after undergoing a baffling and ponderous process, hasn't yet made a ruling that would require this rate to be established?

But, don't worry, did you hear that the NYC Economic Development Corporation, which brought the $56 million cruise terminal (and the unmitigated pollution from the ships) to the Brooklyn waterfront in 2006, has offered to subsidize the power rate so that the cruise ships can "plug in", without economic disincentive?

Well, if your answer is yes to all of these questions, you've been paying close attention (perhaps to this blog). Most of this is pretty old news, actually, though I'll forgive you if you've missed anything. There's been little written about it in local press - in Brooklyn or in the city's major newspapers - which, I think, is part of the reason this is all taking so long.

From January 2009 the Port Authority and NYCEDC has committed to the implementation of "cold ironing" at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal. Along the way there have been various "hoops" through which to jump, but it seemed that everyone (who was required) was 'on board' with these plans. Politicians from Brad Lander, Joan Millman and others have presented testimony at Public Service Commission hearings endorsing and encouraging this plan. Chris Ward at the Port Authority, as I mentioned, produced those startling figures stating the importance of this plan in cleaning the air and reducing the health burden on our residents in testimony to the Public Service Commission. The EPA also produced statements outlining the importance of this plan - these statements are permanently listed on the right hand side-bar of this blog.

But still - the ships are idling - Brooklyn is waiting.

Still waiting ... despite the known facts about the harmful effects of these dangerous, but avoidable emissions. Despite the reality that establishing shore power at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal would only be the first step towards instigating city-wide "cold ironing" throughout the Ports of New York and New Jersey, taking the equivalent of 7.8 million cars off the streets - to truly make NYC - Idle Free.

But while Brooklyn and the rest of New York City dawdle, others are moving ahead.

San Francisco has recently opened a "cold ironing" berth for visiting Carnival cruise ships (see? Carnival want to do the right thing - it's good publicity). San Fran's port has the added advantage of having its power supplied by Hydro-Electric power, making it zero emissions. (Note: the linked story states that this is the 4th cold ironing port in the world. That's not actually true. It's the 4th Carnival Cruise cold ironing port in the world.)

Tacoma, WA, has recently established a cold ironing berth for container ships (story here). This will take 1.9 million tons of asthma causing diesel particulates out of the air, as well as reducing Sulfur by 90%. In the Ports of Long Beach and L.A., where cold ironing has been practiced for a number of years, the "plugging in" of a large container ship is estimated to take the equivalent of 30,000 cars off the road.

Shore power is also being used in other parts of the country and world - like Juneau, Alaska (the US's first cold ironing port), Seattle, San Diego, Vancouver, ports in Sweden, Belgium, Finland, and Germany and others. (see here).

California has been on the vanguard when it comes to the broad implementation of these measures in the U.S., as you can see by the number of Californian ports on that list. The defeat in the last election of Proposition 23, the Big-Oil backed attempt to undo the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions in that state (see my post), is a win for all those hoping to clean the air in California and the rest of the country. It was thought that the adoption of Prop. 23 would have had flow-on effects to things such as the implementation of cold ironing in California and around the country, so its defeat was good news for all clean port advocates.

With such barriers out of the way (fingers crossed and Republican controlled House willing), and more and more awareness of the benefits of such practices, I'm sure there's going to be more action on the cold ironing front in the U.S., with proposals in busy cruise locations such as Florida already underway.

There's also been international action on the reduction of port emissions (Carbon Positive story here), with a group of European ports offering "discounted fees to vessels that outperform a new environmental ship index (ESI) measuring SOx and NOx emissions performance, and quality of CO2 reporting."

From the story -

"Under the voluntary World Ports Climate Initiative (WPCI), the Dutch ports of Amsterdam, Moerdijk, Dordrecht and Rotterdam will apply a new Environmental Ship Index (ESI) to arriving vessels from January 1 next year. Antwerp, Hamburg and Bremen are expected to participate soon after. The WPCI involves 55 ports of the International Association of Ports and Harbours which are looking at reducing their greenhouse gas emissions."

Again, this will be an incentive to instigate clean port practices, including cold ironing, all over Europe.

So if the rest of the country and the rest of the world are moving ahead on all of these measures, what's up in New York? Isn't that what we're all about? If they can do it there, why can't we do it here? .... it's up to you, (boom) New (boom) York, (boom) Neeeewww Yo .... OK, I'll stop.

But seriously, this is taking too long.

At the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal (and remember, this is only the cruise ships in Brooklyn - not including container and other ships), each year we wait is an extra 100 tons of carcinogenic SOx in the air. Each year is an extra 100 tons of smog causing NOx. Each year is an extra 6 tons of asthma causing particulates - spewing out over a neighborhood that already has 40% childhood asthma rates. Each cruise ship visit is costing Brooklyn residents, by the Port Authority's estimate, $150,000 in "monetized health costs".

And I haven't even talked about greenhouse gases.

Why are we waiting?

I dunno. You'll have to ask them.

Pic from PortSide - Mary Whalen in the Atlantic Basin, Queen Mary 2 behind - idling.