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.