Friday, March 30, 2012

Port Authority's Shore Power Question: Is It Worth Spending $4M to Save Brooklyn Residents $9M Per Year in Health Costs?

Photo: Joshua Kristal, South Brooklyn Post

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey acts in mysterious ways. I found that out a few years back when I attended a Port Authority Board Meeting that was deliberating the expansion of the Red Hook Container Terminal and the relocation of Phoenix Beverages to the Brooklyn waterfront. Phoenix were being given use of Pier 11 on the Atlantic Basin as well as Pier 7 at the bottom of Atlantic Avenue. The meeting called for public comment, but, as the meeting progressed, I realized that my comments and those of others in our community - many who wished to express their worries about pollution, congestion, and the exclusion of meaningful public access - would only be allowed after the board had already made its decision. After the gavel had come down. Literally (my post here). It was weird, to say the least, and obviously frustrating considering the matter on which they were supposedly "deliberating" was one that involved publicly owned land (as is the case with all Port Authority controlled land), and considering the PA itself is a public entity.

Since then I've realized that the Port Authority has also been willing to throw sand in the gears of many proposed people-friendly improvements to the use of Red Hook's waterfront. In 2009, when PortSide New York and the New York Economic Development Corporation facilitated the visit of tens of historic "Dutch Flat Bottomed Boats" to our neighborhood, creating a mass mooring in the Atlantic Basin and providing a great event for the visiting vessels as well as for our community, my family and I walked to the end of Pioneer Street, through to the gates in the mesh fence to Pier 11, where the the continuing road meets the water, and we joined the hundreds of people who jumped at the opportunity to visit this "blue space", the historic Atlantic Basin - the protected harbor that is nestled behind the cruise terminal - which is an underutilized neighborhood treasure (my post here). After talking to a few of the Dutch captains, however, it was clear that the Port Authority had been quite an obstacle in the planning of this unique gathering. One captain described arduous red tape, the changing requirements and conditions to be met that almost scuttled the whole event. No wonder we haven't seen anything like it since. Not only that, we've seen PortSide and its vessel, the Mary A. Whalen, being thrown out of their promised home on the Atlantic Basin and Pier 11, with the Port Authority hardly being helpful with accommodating them temporarily, or allowing them the opportunity to raise funds to remain operational. It's hard to get people interested in your venture when your ship is only accessible to Port Authority authorized personnel, on Port Authority restricted property, and only 5 at a time! A Port Authority spokesperson actually compared PortSide's presence at the Red Hook piers to "having a gypsy camp at Terminal 2 at JFK Airport " - nice!

And then there's the plan to bring shore power to the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal.

Under the leadership of Chris Ward, the Port Authority had committed funds to create the infrastructure required to allow for this life saving practice to become operational at the Red Hook terminal. Mr. Ward, in testimony given to the Public Service Commission, cited a study that prompted this statement: "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" (full statement here, my post here). In other words, as things are right now, the annual monetized health cost to Brooklyn residents of these cruise ships is estimated to be $9 million. There were many similar statements from supporters of this plan, all calling attention to the environmental and health benefits it would bring. However, there were a lot of pieces that needed to fall into place to make this happen, and, finally, this time last year the announcement was made that the deal was done - with the participation of, and commitment from the Port Authority, the Environmental Protection Agency, the NYCEDC, the New York Power Authority, Carnival Cruises and the support of every representative of our community - shore power would be coming to Brooklyn in 2012.

And since then we've been waiting.

What's the hold up? Well, after a while, hearing no news and seeing no physical evidence of anything happening at the terminal, I started getting a little nervous. I asked someone who was close to one of our 'electeds' if we had anything to worry about. That person's take was that the deal was secure - unless there was a change in leadership at the Port Authority. And then, in October last year, Chris Ward left the Port Authority.

A few weeks back, there was the troubling news that that the Port Authority was balking at the revised cost of creating the shore power infrastructure at the terminal. They had okayed the original investment, but were questioning the extra amount that would be required.

How much were we talking about here? According to this Brooklyn Eagle story (here), the shortfall was $4.3 Million.

When the Port Authority has already made statements saying that this plan would save Brooklyn residents $9 Million per year - let me say that again - PER YEAR - in health costs. When those health costs include, as stated by the EPA and many others, asthma, cancer, premature death, lung and heart disease. When those who disproportionately bear this burden are our most vulnerable - our children (Red Hook's kids already have 40% asthma rates), the elderly, minority and low-income communities. Why is this even a question?

Yes, the Port Authority is having budget problems, but on that matter they're talking about numbers in the billions of dollars. So to quibble over this relatively small amount, when the savings are so obvious and precious (we're talking about our kids here) - and knowing that the added investment pays for itself in 6 months - it seems very short sighted to be delaying this plan.

Our representatives in government agree, and many of them, according to recent articles in the Brooklyn Eagle, and the Daily News, have written to the Port Authority urging them to make good on their commitment to see this plan through to completion. Those representatives include Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, Borough President Marty Markowitz, State Senator Daniel Squadron, Assemblywoman Joan Millman, Council members Brad Lander and Sara Gonzalez.

They all agree - the Port Authority should get this done.

The sad fact is this plan in Brooklyn should only be the first, small (easy!) step in implementing the use of shore power throughout the Ports of New York and New Jersey, to be used by all kinds of ships - cruise and container. Our ports are the 3rd largest in the country and are laggards in matters of emissions reduction compared to our West Coast counterparts. In John Kaltenstein's 2010 article, "The Big Apple's Big Shipping Problem", he writes that creating a port-wide shore power program in New York would be like "taking the equivalent of 7.8 million cars off the streets", according to the Environmental Defense Fund, and "ridding the air of 7,200 metric tonnes of nitrogen oxide, 570 metric tonnes of fine particulate matter, and 4,600 metric tonnes of sulphur dioxide", according to the EPA's 2002 numbers. (These are the very substances that are threatening the health of our residents, and have been recently found to be more harmful than previously thought - stories here and here.)

In these matters, the Port Authority is truly dawdling.

And concerning in the plan in Brooklyn, which has been described as a "no-brainer", do they really need more convincing?

Benefits of Shore Power:
  • Ships stop idling in port - you know, "Idle-Free NYC"?
  • No more burning of extra-dirty bunker fuel, creating carcinogenic emissions right next to dense residential populations
  • Huge reduction or elimination* of dangerous SOx, NOx and Particulates
  • Huge reduction or elimination* of greenhouse gasses, including CO2
  • Huge reduction or elimination* of soot or "black carbon"
  • Health burden lifted from vulnerable residents, especially kids with asthma, the elderly, low-income and minority communities near ports
  • Reduction of cancer, lung disease, heart disease, premature death, etc.
  • Cruise operators contribute to local economy by purchasing electricity from local, domestic suppliers, rather than dirty fuel from multinational oil companies
  • Reduction of noise and vibration on board ship (relief for ship workers)
  • As cruise ship visits increase in number, as is predicted by the Port Authority and the NYCEDC, the pollution will not increase, thereby making the investment even more beneficial
* These substances will be eliminated if the electricity is supplied by "green" sources. In the case of the Brooklyn plan, the power would be supplied by the NY Power Authority which generates a significant proportion of its electricity from Niagara Falls hydroelectric - emissions free!

So - c'mon Port Authority. Make good on your commitment. Keep your promise to our community. Let's finally make the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal idle-free.


1 comment:

  1. hi Adam,

    I am a journalist writing a story on tugboat emissions and the effects upon the local Red Hook population. I would like to speak with you if possible. You can reach me at

    Hope to hear from you!