Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Deal For Shore Power at Brooklyn Cruise Terminal ..... is DONE!

The great news came today, via a press release from Mayor Bloomberg (here), and articles in the New York Times and South Brooklyn Post, that a deal that will allow cruise ships visiting the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal in Red Hook to plug in to shore power is done.

The deal between the NYC Economic Development Corporation and the New York Power Authority creates a rate of supply for the electricity that the ships will use for their on-board power while in port, instead of idling their extra-dirty diesel engines, as they currently do. This electricity rate will be set for 5 years, and, presumably, by that time, the slow moving Public Service Commission will have created a permanent power rate for the ships and this pollution mitigating practice can continue.

The deal for the rate of electricity supply was the missing piece in the multi-part plan to make the use of shore power in Brooklyn a reality. The Port Authority, aided by an EPA Diesel Emission Reduction grant, had committed funds for the building of the appropriate infrastructure, the cruise operators, Carnival, had committed to retrofitting their ships to accept shore power, and basically everyone else was "on board". The sticking point was the rate of electricity supply to the ships, and a case in the Public Service Commission requesting the creation of a permanent "shore power tariff" had been stuck in some sort of limbo for over two years. So, even though the PSC case is still not resolved, this 5 year deal allows for the shore power plan to finally ... and thankfully ... move forward.

The announcement today was the result of the work of many, including the previously mentioned NYCEDC, the Port Authority, Carnival, the EPA, the NY Power Authority, the Mayor and City of New York and many of our representatives in government.

But it should be remembered that it was the community that forced this issue into the public realm and onto the politicians' agenda. It was our residents who pushed for this improvement to their quality of life. We were acting in response to our concern about the negative affects of these dangerous yet avoidable substances, contained in the smokestack emissions of the ships, on the health of our residents, our neighbors - particularly to our most vulnerable - children, the elderly, minorities and low-income populations, people with lung disease and asthma.

There was a lot of good will shown in today's announcement, and a lot of people were speaking and writing passionately about the benefits this plan will bring to our neighborhood and beyond, and much congratulation was given to these different agencies for the the great work they have done in making this happen.

But 6 years ago, when the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal opened, I'm sorry to say, there was not a single mention or word of acknowledgement from anyone - politicians, government agencies, Borough Presidents, anyone - about the negative health effects that the newly visiting ships would be bringing to our portside neighborhoods. There was not a single line in the New York Times nor the Brooklyn Papers about the dangers of port pollution - from ships or other sources. Nothing about the tons of SOx, NOx and Particulate Matter that would soon be spewing into our neighborhoods' air and into our residents' lungs. When I wrote my first letter to the Mayor in 2005, asking whether the ships that would soon be calling my young family's neighborhood home would be "cold ironing" - i.e. using shore power instead of idling their dirty diesel engines, as I had read was being done in many ports on the West Coast and elsewhere in the world - the response from the City was, "No" - this pollution mitigating and life saving technology was not being considered for Red Hook.

After a number years of just talking about "cold ironing", talking to my neighbors, writing emails to friends and politicians, going to Community Board and other meetings and talking about this stuff, etc. there was still little discussion about cleaning up the pollution from the ships - at least from anyone who had any power to do something about it. Finally, in 2009, after the expansion of the operations of the Container Terminal and after the concern in our neighborhood about port related pollution was starting to register, the Port Authority came to our neighborhood and said they were committing to establishing shore power infrastructure at the Cruise Terminal. It was good news - but the representative from the Port Authority told me he had only recently, "in the last year or so", heard about "cold ironing". Really? The Port Authority had heard about "shore power" 4 years after I had first read about it, 9 years after the first US cruise ship cold ironing port in Juneau, Alaska, and decades after the Navy had been using the practice? That was worrying.

It was around this time that I started writing this blog in an effort to share some of the information I was discovering about this issue. It was also an attempt to push the case for shore power at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal and elsewhere on our waterfront. But this was just one little blog, and to really get the shore power plan to happen there needed to be political will, and pressure from the major press. There was very little forthcoming. The Brooklyn Papers wrote a piece here and there, the the NY Times did a piece, but the coverage was pretty thin. It was frustrating.

However, there were more and more people and organizations in the community becoming aware of this matter - the Red Hook Civic Association, Red Hook Economic Development, Red Hook Initiative, COWNA (including the indefatigueable Diana Schneider - an early advocate for this cause. Thanks Diana!) , Community Board 6, and more - and they were making their concerns known, and that's when things started to happen. Armed with facts and statements made to the Public Service Commission from the EPA (see the sidebar of this blog) and elsewhere regarding the health impacts these emissions were having - cancer, asthma, heart and lung disease and more - the community started to drag some politicians into fighting this fight on our behalf. The newly elected Councilmember Brad Lander was a standout, taking this issue on as one of his highest priorities. The same was the case for Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, and soon State Senators Daniel Squadron and Velmanette Montgomery, Assemblywoman Joan Millman as well as Councilmembers Sara Gonzalez and Steven Levin were on board.

Despite further testimony from the Port Authority supporting the creation of a shore power rate, citing $9 million per year in health care savings to Brooklyn residents resulting from a switch to shore power, the case at the PSC was still stuck in the mud, but these representatives started letting them and the City know that that it wasn't good enough.

Despite the real seriousness of "port pollution" issues, and the situation in Red Hook, coverage in the New York media was still non-existent (negligent, in my opinion), with not a single story written in over a year. However, in November, 2010, the newly launched South Brooklyn Post took up the matter and did an excellent story (here) on the stalled plan to bring shore power to Brooklyn and about this blog's coverage of the issue.

Earlier this year, on a cold morning in January, many of these previously mentioned representatives staged a protest rally at the cruise terminal hoping to force the negotiations forward and to get a resolution to the impasse that was stalling this plan. Again, the South Brooklyn Post covered the story, and thankfully - due to the high profile political presence - a lot of other media outlets covered the rally as well (my post here).

It seemed to help.

The City's Committee on Waterfronts scheduled a hearing on shore power, proposing a resolution supporting the creation of a shore power tariff and urging the PSC to create it, urgently. The hearing was postponed (twice) but the message was clear. A long term plan is needed, and this shore power plan needs to go forward - now.

It was clear for a while that the NYCEDC, who had built the terminal, and the NY Power Authority were working towards a deal to make the shore power plan happen - regardless of the outcome or glacial pace of the PSC case. The pressure from the community, the advocacy of the politicians and, finally, the scrutiny of the press was requiring a solution, even if it was short term.

It seems that Mayor Bloomberg, who had so far kept a low profile on this issue, was also keen to get this done.

Then came the news today.

It was a good day. The Mayor, the representatives, agencies and other parties involved should be congratulated on their efforts in getting this done. Everyone should be feeling good about this.

But, something tells me that if we hadn't "kicked up a fuss", none of this would have happened.

Even though it's 6 years, many tons of unnecessary and harmful pollutants and many blog posts late, ..... this is still good ... no ...

... GREAT news.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

"Tug Boat Parking Lot" at the Atlantic Basin?

Photo: NY Post

Did you hear the news, recently reported in the New York Post (here), that the City was putting out an RFP (Request For Proposal) for an operator to create a "massive parking lot for tugs" inside the Atlantic Basin on Red Hook's waterfront? For those unfamiliar with where and what the Atlantic Basin is, it's the historic "harbor" that lies behind (inland of) the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal. This body of water has been designated as the future home for PortSide New York, who's ship, the Mary A. Whalen, will be moored in the basin permanently. PortSide will also occupy part of the Pier 11 shed (currently used by Phoenix Beverages for recycling and garbage), and have the use of 600 feet of Atlantic Basin water frontage. For anyone who attended any of PortSide's excellent programs held last summer, you know what a great addition their permanent presence in the Atlantic basin will be to our neighborhood, and what a great use of this underused "blue space" this promises to be. The Brooklyn Greenway will also run along the basin, connecting more people to this unique yet underused waterfront location, right at the foot of Red Hook's residential streets.

With these proposed future uses in mind, it was of concern to me that the City and the NYCEDC, who play a large hand in the planning of our waterfront, have put out this RFP without acknowledging the fact that bringing tugboats to the Atlantic Basin - up to 15, as the NY Post article states - will also bring more pollution right into the heart of our neighborhood.

My problem with this plan mostly stems from the fact that the City and EDC have had a history of bringing new activities to our waterfront that impact our neighborhood and its residents with harmful pollution, but never seem to seriously concern themselves with meaningfully mitigating the pollution - that is until the residents discover the negative health impacts they are being subjected to and start to voice their concerns. This was certainly the case with the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, where the visiting ships have been continuously idling while in port, spewing their dangerous fumes into our neighborhood's air for the last 6 years, when they could have been plugging in to shore power and eliminating the negative health impacts they have been needlessly imposing on our community, especially our most vulnerable - kids, the elderly, people with lung disease including asthma, minority and low-income communities, etc.

The City's indifference to the negative health impacts that their plans were having on our residents was also apparent when they facilitated the relocation of Phoenix Beverages to our neighborhood where there was some long term plan (taking over 7 years) to reduce the impact of the emissions from the 200 truck trips that Phoenix was bringing to Red Hook, but there was no acknowledgement that this new business would also be bringing more ships, more emissions, more sulfur, particulates, etc., more resultant negative health impacts to our residents, and nothing was being done to address those impacts.

As with the Cruise Terminal, neither the City nor the Port Authority who operate the terminals were required to do an Environmental Impact Study - because of current land use rules, they can basically do what they like.

This is why I have an issue with the tugs. Tugs currently use dirty diesel similar to the stuff that cruise ships and container ships burn. It's high in sulfur and creates particulates and other dangerous substances that are harmful to human health.

Don't just take my word for it.

"Pollution from the diesel-powered tugboats and other port emission sources has caused negative health effects on the surrounding population, including cancer and respiratory illnesses." (article here)

And this from a recent study - (story here)

"Tugs emit nearly a gram of soot per kilogram of fuel burned — twice as much as any other vessel type, the authors found. The high levels point to their low-quality fuel — a thick, black tar left over from crude oil after the gasoline and kerosene have been removed. Engine age and maintenance also play a role.

Tugboats have a disproportionate impact on air quality because they travel within ports, emitting potentially harmful particles near populous urban areas, according to the authors.

“Tugboats are a huge source of black carbon that may be under-reported or not reported at all in emissions inventories compiled by ports,” said Lack."

These are reasons to be concerned about the introduction of these new sources of pollution into the heart of our neighborhood where residents are already bearing the burden of pollution from other sources in the port and elsewhere.

If the City really wants to bring tugs to the Atlantic Basin, why wouldn't they use the opportunity to set an example for "green" practices, by requiring the use of ultra low sulphur fuel by the tugs that would be using this location - a location that is tucked into a dense residential population? Why couldn't the city put out an RFP for a "hybrid tug" operator using the clean green vessels like those that are being put to use in California and elsewhere (story here). Why wouldn't the city use this opportunity to give substance to some of the environmentally friendly rhetoric about "greening the ports" that emanates from the Mayor's office?

It's certainly the case that over the next 5 years or so, tugs and other vessels will have to use cleaner diesel in US coastal waters, including within our ports, due to regulations coming from the IMO (International Maritime Organization). These new rules are being implemented in response to the real negative health effects that ship pollution is having on our population - both on the coast and inland - including cancers, asthma, heart and lung disease, premature mortality and more.

However, when shipping switches to this new, cleaner fuel, it will reduce - not eliminate - these harmful emissions, so in areas where shipping and dense populations operate in close proximity, as in portside communities such as Red Hook, it's important that port and shipping practices are made as clean as possible. That's been the case in California, where the two largest ports in the country - the Ports of LA and Long Beach - abut dense populations, and as a result the operation of those ports involve the cleanest possible practices - cold ironing (the use of shore power), clean electric cranes and port machinery, a robust clean truck program and more. In California, when the agencies and representatives in government, spurred on by activism in the community, started to address the issue of port pollution in the early 2000s, they decided that where dense populations were impacted by the ports' close proximity, the response must be as robust as possible. Nearly a decade later, those ports and their surrounding populations have been reaping the benefits - in their environment and health. These strategies have the added benefit of reducing the ports' (and our country's) reliance on oil and significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

This should also be the case in Red Hook, not to mention the entire Ports of New York and New Jersey, which are the 3rd largest in the country.

In New York, as on the West Coast, shipping business is growing. Where there is more shipping, there is more pollution, so it's important that our dense portside populations are not impacted unfairly by this pollution and it's important that, going forward, the best possible practices are pursued at the ports in our city, and with the ships that visit them, so as to offset this increased impact.

That's my point about the tug boats presence in the Atlantic Basin. Why should we accept more unmitigated pollution, courtesy of the tugs - especially when we already have unresolved issues with cruise ships, container ships, trucks and more? Why shouldn't we expect that the City and the EDC sort out their previous mess before bringing more problems to resolve? Why should anything that the City brings to our neighborhood add to our residents' pollution burden?

That's just going backwards.

Yes, the Atlantic Basin should be re-activated. Yes, the activities of PortSide New York are a great example of what can be done in this unique "Blue Space". Yes, there is a place for commercial vessels, and tie ups - ferries, charter boats, etc. - and, hey, whatever happened to the plan for the Governors Island Ferry in the Atlantic Basin?

But to create a "massive tugboat parking lot"? To inject more pollution into our neighborhood's air from what is known to be a significant contributor to port pollution - i.e. tugboats - without having a plan to mitigate it? That is unacceptable.

Just as we're getting something done with cruise ship pollution with the seemingly imminent, but long fought plan to get them to "plug in" to shore power, why should our residents be asked to accept the same sort of dangerous unmitigated pollution from a different source?

It just isn't right.

PortSide New York at the Atlantic Basin