The Green Marine Highway?
13th August 2010 18:38 GMT

MARAD’s short sea shipping program is moving forward, and many proponents are touting its environmental benefits.  

Generally, supporters of short sea shipping point to the carbon dioxide reductions achievable by switching from trucks (or rail) to ship.  

Naturally, lessening the carbon intensity of goods movement is something environmentalists embrace, but greenhouse gases aren’t the only factor we look at to evaluate the environmental merits of a programme.  

Other environmental issues of concern for short sea shipping include underwater noise, ship strikes, fuel spills and other water pollution, invasive species introduction, and dredging due to port expansion.  

While harm stemming from these impacts can potentially be avoided or mitigated with proper planning, design, and operational features, MARAD has, thus far, kicked any environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act and other federal environmental statutes down the road, preferring instead to deal with these issues at the project level.  

The problem with this stance is that a holistic environmental appraisal of a national short sea shipping program is not possible when evaluations begin at the micro and not macro level.  

How can the environmental merits of particular short sea shipping corridors, for example, be properly assessed, if not at the outset?  

Consequently, scrutiny from advocacy groups, including Friends of the Earth, will be elevated in appraising the environmental characteristics of MARAD’s marine highway program.  

As money for short sea shipping projects begins to appear - although in a piecemeal fashion - let’s put the platitudes aside and start to take a hard look at the environmental issues raised by this modality; and further, let’s make sure that the so-called best alternative for the environment truly is that.

John Kaltenstein,
13th August 2010 18:38 GMT

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