In mid-2023, two New York City council members proposed a bill that would limit cruise traffic and require cruise ships to only use shore power when docked in the city’s ports, rather than using diesel engines, which emit harsh fossil fuels. 

Lately, there has been a new flurry of activity surrounding the bill, which takes a harsh stance against the cruise industry. 

Democratic city council members Alexa Avilés of Brooklyn and Erik Bottcher of Manhattan are tired of cruise ships adding to pollution in their home cities. 

According to these lawmakers, each day cruise ships are docked in the ports in Red Hook, Brooklyn and the west side of Manhattan, nearly the same amount of carbon is released into the atmosphere as what would come from 34,000 idling tractor trailers – although it’s not clear where they sourced this number. 

In an effort to combat the pollution, the council members introduced a bill in 2023 that would require cruise ships to only use shore power, a more environmentally friendly alternative to the diesel engines typically used by cruise ships, while docking in New York ports.

While the bill doesn’t ban cruise ships per say, it does include a proponent to mitigate cruise traffic and would create challenges for vessels that need to keep their engines running in port in order to provide electricity on board. 

The bill, dubbed the “Our Air Our Water Act” was originally introduced by Avilés on May 25, 2023, and has been re-submitted as of February 8, 2024. On February 15, 2024, Avilés and other supporters advocated for the bill during a special hearing. 

During the hearing, Avilés cited a goal set by the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) for all cruise lines to be equipped to use shore power by 2035. However, she says that goal is too far away with the amount of pollution seeping into the air and water via cruise ships now.

“As public servants we work for the residents of New York City, not for the cruise lines and their billions of dollars in revenues that we see no benefit from,” Avilés said. “Our climate goals, our streets, our air, and our water are on the line.”

At the time of publication, the bill’s status was listed as “laid over in committee.” It’s not clear when it will be officially discussed again or when it might be put up for a vote – although it wouldn’t be surprising if it’s up for debate again soon.

Although the bill poses a big change for cruise lines hoping to sail to New York, this isn’t the first city to enforce shore power requirements. Just to name a few, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Miami already have shore power requirements in place. 

Accordingly, many cruise lines have already made the modifications to be able to use shore power, such as Cunard Line, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises, and MSC Cruises, which began running cruises year-round from New York City in April of 2023. 

The problem that arises because of the bill is largely targeted at ships that aren’t yet retrofitted for shore power and would still need to run their engines while docked, rendering them unable to adhere to the potential new requirements. There are also some cruise lines who have avoided using shore power thus far due to the cost

Cruise Ship Docked in Manhattan, New York (Photo Credit: CK Foto / Shutterstock)

The Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, which currently serves Cunard Line and Princess Cruises, is already equipped to offer shore power to cruise ships, and actually was the first operational shore power-capable cruise terminal on the East Coast.

Read Also: The Cruise Industry’s Pursuit of Carbon Neutrality by 2050

However, the bigger Manhattan Cruise Terminal, is not yet equipped to offer shore power – although city council documents suggest that it will be able to before the end of 2024.

If not outfitted to offer shore power by the time the bill took effect, it could pose a problem for the city of New York, especially because the Manhattan Cruise Terminal is significantly larger than the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal. 

It services more cruise lines, including Norwegian Cruise Line, Disney Cruise Line, Seabourn Cruise Line, Viking Ocean Cruises, and Oceania Cruises, among others.

According to the New York Economic Development Corporation, Manhattan served 1,154,987 cruise passengers with 207 ship calls in 2018, compared to 143,030 passengers with 28 ship calls in Brooklyn in the same year. 

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