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.



  1. No major media in NYC have a waterfront beat reporter. This means coverage is at best spotty and at worst is often uninformed/wrong.

    I tried reporting on the waterfront before founding PortSide, but there was no market for the product. My efforts as of early 2003 are at in several sections.

  2. Adam, thanks for your great coverage on this issue. Your relentless, hard-hitting reporting ensures that nobody can forget about this issue. Nice work and keep up the fight.