Friday, May 10, 2013

NYC Welcomes "Norwegian Breakaway" - West Side Residents Welcome More Unmitigated Pollution! (UPDATED: West Coast Stories)

Photo from NYCEDC blog.

This week, New York added a new cruise ship to the list of vessels calling our city's ports home. That ship is the "Norwegian Breakaway", which is the largest cruise ship to homeport in Manhattan. (The largest cruise ship that homeports in NYC - the Queen Mary 2 - berths at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal in Red Hook). Mayor Bloomberg, New York Cruise and the New York City Economic Development Corporation were all abuzz about the arrival of this ship and its imminent "christening".

The NYCEDC blog described the event this way:

This week, NYCEDC and Mayor Bloomberg joined Norwegian Cruise Line and the Rockettes to christen the Norwegian Breakaway, the largest cruise ship ever to port in NYC! The enormous 4,000-passenger vessel with Peter Max’s signature artwork on its hull was a sight to behold at the Manhattan Cruise Terminal at Pier 88.
“The arrival of the Norwegian Breakaway—the largest cruise ship to homeport in Manhattan—is another proof point of the growth and success of New York City’s $200 million cruise sector, a cornerstone of the City’s $55 billion tourism industry,” said Mayor Bloomberg.

The City and NYCEDC are always talking about the economic benefits of the cruise industry, but never talk about the economic and environmental impact of this industry - due to pollution, health impacts, and other factors. (Not to mention the fact that the cruise industry has a pretty poor record regarding labor law and in paying taxes. For example, over the past 5 years, Carnival paid only 1.1% in tax).

The lack of acknowledgement of this impact, particularly regarding the health impacts that the emissions of these visiting ships is having on our city's residents, prompted me to write this comment on the NYCEDC blog website:

Are your readers aware that these huge ships - like all ocean-going ships that visit the ports of New York (cruise, container and cargo) - are constantly idling while in port? While they berth at our city's terminals, often next to our most dense residential neighborhoods, they are continuously running their dirty diesel engines to supply the ship's electrical needs.
 The emissions that these ships' engines create while in port - equivalent to up to 30,000 cars - are high in sulfur and soot and the EPA regards them to be carcinogenic and asthma inducing, among their various well-documented negative health impacts. These impacts, says the EPA, are most acutely shouldered by our most vulnerable - our children, people with respiratory ailments (like asthma), the elderly and low income or minority communities.

As toxic as they are, there is a way to stop these harmful substances being emitted while the ships are in port. That is to "plug-in" the ships to the city's electric grid - using what is called "shore power" - thereby allowing the ships to turn off their dirty diesel engines while in port (this is a practice called "cold ironing"). Despite the fact that this practice has been used widely in many places - like on the West Coast (Ports of LA, Long Beach, etc.) - and has been used by the US Navy for over 50 years, East Coast ports have not one single port with "shore power" in use. (Brooklyn Cruise Terminal in New York is supposed to be the first on the East Coast to do so in 2014 - after a long fought effort by the community to make it happen - but no infrastructure has yet been built, and until it is up and running, no one is counting that chicken).

The Ports of NY and NJ make up the third largest port complex in the nation - behind the West Coast ports I mentioned. Compared to the actions taken by the mayors, etc. of those West Coast cities, why hasn't the administration of this city taken the emissions of these ships seriously, especially when there is a way to actually eliminate those emissions - one that is tried and proven in those other port cities?

Yes, the cruise industry and shipping industry is having a positive impact on our city's economy, but without these pollution mitigating technologies, there is a tremendous price being paid - often unknowingly - by our port-side residents. Are the residents of the West Side of Manhattan even aware that these huge ships - sometimes 3 at a time - are all idling while berthed at the edge of their neighborhood, spewing fumes over their heads and into their children's lungs? Why don't they know? Isn't it the City's obligation to educate these residents about the poisons that are being injected by these ships into their air?

The fact is, the City never acknowledges the burden that is being shouldered by our city's residents in negative health impacts due to the emissions of ships and other port activities.

The City and NYCEDC are constantly touting the economic benefits of our cruise industry, but never a mention of any of the negative impacts - on our health and environment. For an administration that prides itself on its "green" credentials, that is shameful. History will not look kindly on the inaction of Mayor Bloomberg, the NYCEDC and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in tackling the impact of port emissions over the last 10 years.

There's still time to do something, but the record - as of now - is a pretty sorry one.


In case you wondered what was happening on the West Coast, check out these articles -

Ship and Bunker: "Millions of Dollars Being Spent on Shore Side Power"

Maritime Executive: "Long Beach: Port, Terminals, Ships Investing in Shore Power"