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March 5, 2021
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News + Views

Rally Protests Cruise Pollution

By Lisa M. Collins
City Councilman Brad Lander, State Sen. Daniel Squadron and U.S. Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez protest cruise ship pollution.
Photo by Lisa M. Collins

South Brooklyn Post broke the story in November about a major source of air pollution over Red Hook and Carroll Gardens. Now Brooklyn leaders are calling for action.

On Monday a group of Brooklyn politicians joined Red Hook community activists wearing gas masks to protest the stalemate that is allowing Carnival cruise ships to spew thousands of tons of cancer-causing, lung-damaging diesel fumes over Brooklyn while docked in Red Hook.

“It’s time for the cruise ship terminal to stop choking Brooklyn,” said state Sen. Daniel Squadron, against the backdrop of the massive Queen Mary 2 docked at the end of Pioneer Street. “You can smell the diesel wafting over the neighborhood.”

“Cruise ships idling at port force Brooklynites to breathe in dirty, dangerous diesel fumes. Putting an end to it is long overdue,” Squadron said.

“We need a comprehensive shore power agreement now,” said City Councilman Brad Lander. “We’ve had two years of idling ships, and idling negotiations. We want an agreement before the next ship comes in.”

In November, South Brooklyn Post wrote about a money battle between the city, the state and Carnival that is stalling the construction of a shore power station. A shore power station would allow cruise ships to plug in to electrical power while docked, instead of idling their engines and emitting diesel exhaust. In California, Alaska and in Europe, cruise ships plug in. Carnival has been a leader in the practice. California subsidizes the cost, as do local governments in the Golden State. The practice is called “cold ironing,” or shore power. The U.S. Navy has practiced cold ironing for decades.

In August, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey voted to spend $12.1 million, in addition to $2.85 million provided by the U.S. EPA, to build a Brooklyn shore power station. But Carnival, the New York City Economic Development Corporation and state utility officials are tussling over who will pay the $1 to $2 million a year it will cost Carnival in electric bills. Carnival and the New York EDC have not returned calls for comment.

Now that New York has a new governor, Andrew Cuomo, perhaps some executive persuasion will help address the problem, said state Sen. Velmanette Montgomery.

Cruise ships burn the cheapest form of diesel, called bunker fuel. According to a letter from the executive director of The Port Authority, Christopher Ward, in January 2010, health problems caused by cruise ship emissions cost Brooklyn $9 million a year in medical expenses. The emissions can cause lung tissue damage and inflammation, increased respiratory illness, breathing problems, chest pain and asthma.




Red Hook protestors, including Adam Armstrong (far right).




Adam Armstrong, a musician who lives with his wife and kids on Pioneer Street, started a blog in 2006, A View from the Hook,  to address cruise ship pollution and the need for a shore power station.

“When our kids are breathing this in,” Armstrong said, “It’s a matter of environmental justice.”

It’s shocking that New York City and Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who has undertaken major green initiatives, would stand for such an obvious problem, said Norman Cox, president of the Columbia Waterfront Neighborhood Association.

“It’s very mystifying to us why such a simple and obvious thing has been do hard to get done,” Cox said.

Negotiations have lasted two years over who will subsidize the $1 million to $2 million annual cost.

“It’s two years too long,” said Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez.

The Congresswoman, who was instrumental in obtaining federal funding for studies to green the BQE ditch and to look at running trolley cars along Columbia Street, called on Carnival to step up.

“Carnival Cruise has to understand, this isn’t just about the economic bottom line,” Velázquez said. “They have a social responsibility.”

Asthma rates in Red Hook are high already, with kids at the Red Hook Houses, near the cruise terminal, especially impacted.

The cruise ship industry is lucrative for New York. According to a report on NYCruise, cruise ship business generates $1.13 billion for the local economy every year. The Cruise Ship industry estimates that passengers spend $175 a day while docked in the city.

Carnival has agreed to retrofit its two primary ships that dock in Red Hook at a cost of $3 million to $4 million, if the shore power station is built, according to Port Authority documents.

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