If Charleston City Council, when asked Tuesday to support reducing air pollution from cruise ships, says "no," local residents should have some serious concerns about the people who have been elected to represent them.
A resolution by Councilman Dudley Gregorie simply supports adding shoreside power capabilities to the new Union Pier passenger terminal that the State Ports Authority wants to build. Doing so would allow cruise ships to turn off their particulate-spewing diesel engines and run on electricity while docked.
The debate over cruise ships in Charleston has been long and heated about whether they bring too much crowding and too few economic benefits.
But the Medical Society of Charleston and the state medical association have both called for shoreside power to all but eliminate emissions that can harm people's hearts and lungs and have been associated with cancer.
Those emissions could be reduced significantly by switching to shore power.
Neighbors of the port have talked about the buildup of soot on their homes from cruise ships and their health concerns about breathing polluted air. Numerous ports have made the switch to shore power to address health risks.
Recognizing that, the federal Maritime Administration recently agreed to contribute $700,000 for the construction of a test hydrogen cell power system at the Port of Honolulu. Why? It would be cost effective and more environmentally friendly than diesel fuel.
Carnival Cruiselines, wanting to use less expensive fuel than the government is mandating, is experimenting with scrubbers to reduce some of the emissions, and thereby satisfy those tougher regulations.
Anything to reduce pollution is good, but scrubbers are not the final answer in Charleston. Dr. Robert Ball, chairman of the Charleston County Medical Society's Public/Environmental Health Committee, said, "Scrubbers are inadequate to satisfactorily address long-term public health concerns. They are, according to current data, one-fourth as efficient as shore power."
Still, the SPA has not embraced the idea of shoreside power. It is working with DHEC toward monitoring the impact of vessels' engines.
And a port spokeswoman alluded to "more modern technologies that provide equal or greater benefit," but offered no specifics.
That possibility is hardly an excuse for failing to include shoreside power in plans for the terminal. If, before construction, something far superior appears, plans can change. But if it doesn't, the people who live and work and visit the area near the port should be assured that they will be spared noxious emissions.
Mr. Gregorie hopes that if council approves the resolution, the state Legislature will take note as it considers setting aside up to $5 million to install shore power.
The allocation was proposed by Reps. Jim Merrill, R-Charleston, and Leon Stavrinakis, D-Charleston. It has been approved by the House Ways and Means Committee.
City Council could mend some fences and demonstrate it has residents' best interests at heart by supporting Mr. Gregorie's resolution. Failing to do so would send a message that members don't really care if people are exposed to cruise ship air pollution. Or if members do care, they don't care enough to take a stand on the issue.
Or it could signal that Charleston's elected officials are more interested in pleasing the SPA than taking care of residents. The people of Charleston are as eager as the rest of the state to see the port continue to be a success. But it isn't as if the SPA would be asked to do anything many other ports aren't already doing by using shore power.
Banners on numerous houses in downtown Charleston call for reducing cruise ship emissions by adding shore power. Neighborhood associations support the idea.
The movement isn't arbitrary or insignificant. And data support what they stand for.
Cleaner air for Charleston? There's no reason to say "no."
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