The Big Apple's big shipping pollution problem
16th February 2010 19:27 GMT

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (NY-NJ Port Authority) is the third largest port in the United States, handling over 5 million container TEUs and 153 million tonnes of cargo a year.  

From 1998 through 2007, the Port's container business grew by more than 100%, and by 2007 its operating revenue stood at $3.2 billion.  However, this impressive growth has also fostered massive pollution increases.  

EPA estimates that, in 2002, marine vessels in the port complex produced about 7,200 metric tonnes of nitrogen oxide, 570 metric tonnes of fine particulate matter, and 4,600 metric tonnes of sulphur dioxide.  

A report from Environmental Defense Fund asserts that these ship emissions are equivalent to the emissions from 7.8 million new cars.  Moreover, a recent study commissioned by the Coastal Conservation League finds that air emissions from an expanded Charleston, SC port could result in up to $81 million per year in monetized health costs.  

Since the NY-NJ Port Authority dwarfs the Port of Charleston (Charleston has less than one-third the container volume of NY-NJ and less than one-eighth its cargo volume), its health costs, as well as premature mortality figures, are likely much greater.  

Complicating the situation is the fact that the Port Authority, like many East Coast ports, is projected to continue its rapid growth.  

The Port expects to double container capacity by 2020, due in part to the expansion of the Panama Canal (slated for completion in 2014), which will allow for larger freight vessels from Asia to visit Gulf and East Coast ports.  

This projected growth, combined with the fact that the air quality in the communities surrounding the Port currently violates federal standards for particulate matter and ozone, indicates that the port should immediately tackle the issue of harmful air emissions related to its operations.  

This means taking a page, or even two, from the playbook of West Coast ports when it comes to reducing emissions.  

While, to its credit, the Port Authority has installed some diesel-hybrid cargo handling equipment, and there are plans to develop shorepower at the Brooklyn Cruise Ship Terminal, much more work remains to be done.  

For starters, the Port should implement emission reduction initiatives that have performed well at West Coast ports, including incentive-based vessel speed reduction measures and shore power for multiple ship types.

The benefits to human health and the environment from these actions have been substantial.  At the Port of Long Beach, a suite of measures to reduce pollution from ocean-going vessels has resulted in a 26% drop in particulate matter emissions from 2005 to 2008.  

The Port Authority's 2009 clean air strategy calls for a 30% reduction in Port-related maritime criteria pollutant emissions (using a 2006 baseline) notwithstanding any Port growth in the next ten years.  

The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach (the largest port complex in the United States), however, set a more impressive benchmark five years ago, with a goal of 45% emission reductions by 2010. According to 2008 data, they have achieved 35% reductions so far.  

Hopefully, the NY-NJ Port Authority enhances its emission reduction goal and takes a few cues from successful West Coast port programs (and even unsuccessful ones), so that it may provide a robust clean air strategy and implementation plan which residents living near ports in New York and New Jersey can embrace.

John Kaltenstein,
16th February 2010 19:27 GMT

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