The cruise business is booming — and so is air pollution on the West Side. The statistics are enough to take your breath away: “Every day that a ship docks at port and remains unplugged releases the equivalent of 34,000 tractor-trailers burning fuel,” warned Councilmenber Alexa Aviles as local officials launched a bid to reduce cruise ship pollution.
Aviles and local Councilmember Erik Bottcher are co-sponsoring Introduction 1050, a bill intended to help reduce pollution by requiring all idling cruise ships docked at terminals across the city, including Manhattan’s Cruise Terminal (MCT) at 711 Twelfth Avenue, to use shore power rather than fossil fuels — by plugging into the city’s electric grid.
Even though it is the city’s busiest cruise ship terminal and the fourth busiest in the US, MCT currently has no access to shore power. Brooklyn does — but it is being used only half the time. According to MCT’s schedule for the year, there are 227 days in which ships are expected to be in port. BCT’s schedule shows 43 days in which ships are expected to be in port, only 21 of them connected to shore power.
“Recently, the West Side of Manhattan was registered as one of the worst air quality in all of New York. This is no coincidence that the cruise ships that are parked in Hell’s Kitchen right now are contributing to that,” said Leslie Boghosian Murphy, co-chair of the Park Environment Committee for Manhattan Community Board 4. “They want to switch over. Their fleets are almost 50 percent fitted for electric shore power, so we have to make them.”
CMs Bottcher and Aviles were joined by community advocates at a rally in Red Hook, Brooklyn on Monday demanding action be taken on their proposed bill. The legislation will mandate the Economic Development Corporation (EDC) to include specific conditions in cruise operators’ contracts aimed at cutting traffic, noise and pollution resulting from activities at cruise terminals.
“Our residents are suffocating. As the law stands, the EDC is not required to mandate the use of shore power when signing contracts with cruise corporations. For every day that a ship docks without plugging in, we face the equivalent of 34,000 tractor trailers burning fuel,” said Aviles. “We want to send a clear message that no cruise company should be allowed in our city unless they respect the communities and quality of life of our residents.”
She added, “Shore power is technology that’s been with us for about half a century and we’ve had a plug in Red Hook since 2017. And yet, on countless days, that doomsday plume of smoke covers our playgrounds, our homes, our businesses, our community.”
“The scary thing is most of these pollutants are invisible and they’re wafting over our neighborhoods and making people sick. So we know what needs to be done because they’re doing it elsewhere,” said Bottcher. “It’s called shore power so these ships can plug in, they can turn off their fossil fuel-generating engines.”
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A spokesperson for EDC said, “The Brooklyn Cruise Terminal became the first port on the East Coast to install a shore power connection in 2017 and remains the only one to this day. NYCEDC is deeply committed to ensuring a sustainable and equitable future for the cruise industry in New York City which brings nearly $420 million in economic impact each year. NYCEDC is in the process of procuring and deploying additional shore power infrastructure for the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal to allow additional ships to connect while in port. NYCEDC will continue engaging with our elected official partners and the local community to gather their input and ensure support for the tourism industry.”
THE CITY reported earlier this year that the EDC allocated $15 million originally earmarked for BCT towards the Hell’s Kitchen terminal, with none of the money being allocated towards shore power. A study from the Environmental Protection Agency has shown that diesel emissions can lead to serious health conditions like asthma and respiratory illnesses. In totality, emissions from marine vehicles only make up a small portion of the city’s transportation emissions.
Meanwhile, the Manhattan terminal continues to attract cruise ships throughout the year. This summer, Carnival became the second cruise company to use Hell’s Kitchen as a year-round destination. Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady was the first ship to dock at MCT after the pandemic, arriving to host a three-day party at the dockside.