Caribbean Emissions Control Area
“Our greatest concern was that none of us knew anything about that.”
-Sen. Janette Millin Young
Politicians who are elected to office perform certain duties which are generally geared toward maintaining and augmenting society. They are also accountable to the people whom they represent. Laws are drafted to maintain order, improve the quality of life and generally preserve the common good. However, the local media recently reported actions taken upon by several members of the Senate regarding the Caribbean Emissions Control Area which are completely contrary to their mandate.
The IMO (International Maritime Organization) is a specialized agency of the United Nations with 169 Member States which develop and maintain a comprehensive regulatory framework for the shipping industry, specifically; safety, environmental concerns, legal matters, technical co-operation and maritime security. IN 2008, The IMO in conjunction with the EPA drafted new guidelines for the shipping industry to adhere to as a result of the increasing amount of pollutants generated by standard fuel sources currently in use.
The basis for these new guidelines was first and foremost to insure public health. The hydrocarbon emissions generated from large cargo and passenger ships pose a significant health risk as they are comprised of particulate matter,volatile organic compounds, sulfides and nitrates. These compounds have been documented to cause respiratory and ocular diseases. Exposure to these chemicals over a prolonged period of time can result in chronic and fatal conditions. The undisputed benefit this policy would render the people of the Virgin Islands is priceless and yet four of our Senators Millin-Young, Malone, Sanes and “Chucky” Hansen conspired to act against the EPA and IMO! They went as far as passing a resolution asking the Federal Government to postpone the final vote on the measure.
Senator Millin-Young was quoted the following by the Virgin Islands Daily News; “Our greatest concern was that none of us knew anything about that.” There is absolutely no excuse for Senator Millin-Young or her colleagues to not have known as the information regarding the Emission Control Area regulations was made available as far back as 2008. As for the resolution postponing the implementation of the proposed regulations, it is clearly a case of putting corporate interests before that of the people.
The job of a Senator is not merely meant to simply draft laws and find ways of appropriating funds to projects but to perpetually find creative and innovative concepts and ideas that will contribute to the improvement of society. When elected to public office and after being sworn it, the role of leader, guide and protector is assumed and in that capacity it is imperative that current events, breakthroughs in science and technology are routinely followed. These are matters that can directly effect the territory and the importance of the Emissions Control Area certainly falls under this category.
The responses by our Senators siding on the resistance of adopting the ECA resonates a disturbing, if not a sinister tone. Either our representatives and their many aides and researchers are not following up on current events and progressive trends in technology and therefore, not doing a significant portion of their job, or deliberately feigning ignorance on the importance of the ECA and purposefully obstruct the course of progress for the benefit of industry.
As early as June of 2009 the then commissioner of the DPNR, Robert Mathes, saw the validity of implementing the proposed measures by the IMO in conjunction with the EPA. He was quoted saying that the Emission Control Area “will be of significant interest to the people of the Virgin Islands. The residents will benefit from a reduction of air emissions. In addition, this will also result in better health of marine life, terrestrial plants and animals.”
What Mr. Mathes was referring to in terms of the various benefits are a drastic reduction in ocean acidification and carcinogenic pollutants which directly affect human health and the vitality of our ecosystems. Any policy that acts contrary to the safeguard and well being of the populace is not only inexcusable but unconscionable.
The natural cycle of atmospheric and oceanic CO2 levels remain in a state of balance with respect of one another. However, the recent spike of CO2 which has been discharged into the atmosphere as a result of human activity has transformed our the chemical composition of both the air and the ocean. In as far as the Oceans are concerned, the result of these chemical changes will pose a significant threat to life and the ability for it to adapt.
Since the rise of the industrial revolution, levels of anthropogenic (man made) emissions of Carbon Dioxide have increased exponentially. In fact the amount of CO2 in our atmosphere is equivalent to a time period going back at least two and a half million years ago. In the grand scheme of things we are basically living on a planet reflective of atmospheric conditions before the genus of Homo first appeared on the face of the Earth.
The food chain and the relation of anthropogenic CO2 emissions to the oceans is one of many concerns shared among the scientific community. Phytoplankton and Zooplankton are microscopic animals which are the primary food source for many fish species including Salmon, Cod, Mackerel and Herring to name a few. The rising levels of CO2 over the past two hundred use have increased the levels of acidity in the oceans which bears deadly consequences for many varieties of Zooplankton.
Pteropods for example, create a shell made up of aragonite which serves as a primitive exoskeleton. Calcium Carbonate, a component of aragonite is sensitive to PH and when levels become too acidic the shells dissolve. According to studies, man has burned enough fossil fuels to have generated roughly five hundred billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. The proportion of CO2 having been absorbed into the ocean since the inception of Hydro carbons as a power source is only thirty percent of all anthropogenic sources which translates to millions upon millions of tonnage absorbed on a daily basis. If the current trend does not abate then the populations of many species dependent on several classes of Zooplankton for substance will become endangered and possibly face extinction.
Corals, Mollusks and Crustaceans similarly share the same problems as Pteropods posed by ocean acidification as the composition of their respective shells are all subject to dissolution with rising PH levels. Food-Webs and biodiversity will be effected across many levels in ways which we cannot begin to fathom. If we were to look at the importance of Coral Reefs alone, the number of species effected would constitute twenty five percent of all marine life. The sad truth that hardly gets any mention is that the Caribbean has already lost eighty percent of their coral habitats.
Phytoplankton which are the simplest forms of plant life are also in danger of the changing chemical makeup of our oceans. Phytoplankton are responsible for producing more than half of the oxygen on planet Earth. The availability of Iron is a necessary component for phytoplankton to engage in the process of photosynthesis in order to produce oxygen but the increase of anthropogenic CO2 which is acidifying the waters makes the availability of Iron a problematic. It is increasingly apparent that both marine and terrestrial life have a lot at stake if corrective actions are not taken.
There varied consequences of the acidification of the oceans are voraciously being studied and despite the infancy of this new and emerging field the results coming in are alarming to say the least. For example, it has already been established that the chemical composition of seawater has been altered and as a result of this change, the amplification of sound has greatly increased and it’s ability to travel farther throughout the ocean.
The ramifications of this seemingly innocuous change is anything but harmless. The engine noise generated by tankers, cruise ships, military vessels, sonar, oil rigs and the machinery used for oil exploration have taken a heavy toll on a variety of marine life species. Evidence indicates that the cerebral hemorrhaging of whales is directly correlated to the military use of sonar but underwater noise pollution effects the behavior of many fish species and sea mammals.
Traffic on shipping lanes have increased ten times since the middle of the twentieth century. Bottle-nose and rough tooth dolphins that have been found stranded were also almost totally deaf but even nominal noise pollution has been recorded to cause nerve damage to invertebrates like Octopus and Squid. Killer Whales have gone as far as pitching their calls or commands to one another at higher ranges; the equivalent of screaming and many species of fish alter the normal routes, behavior, feeding and breeding grounds in an effort to avoid human generated underwater noise. There are actually over 800 species of marine life that, to a greater or lesser extent, use sound in their daily activities. All animals, including humans, have a threshold, a limit to how many stressors can be tolerated and endured. Physiological and hormonal changes occur which are a result of the inability of life to adapt which eventually lead to premature death.
On the subject of pollution and more specifically, the effects of emissions on terrestrial life, human beings living in port cities are especially prone to the damaging effects of cargo and cruise ship exhaust which contain high levels of not just CO2 but Carbon Monoxide, Ozone, Methane, Sulfur Dioxide, Nitrates, particulate matter and a plentiful variety of VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds). Despite the upsides in living in the Virgin Islands, a port city is still a port city and with it comes the aforementioned environmental hazards. Children, in particular, are prone to acquiring asthma from the amounts of Ozone and Nitrogen Dioxide that are discharged and made available in the air but the elderly and infirm are also subject to bouts of chronic bronchitis and other respiratory disorders. Worst case scenario when living in an area where there is heavy road traffic, ship traffic and a refinery in close proximity, the possibility of acquiring emphysema or lung cancer is probable.
Volatile Organic Compounds are especially carcinogenic and can be found as by products from the combustion and productions of fossil fuels. Formaldehyde, Acolein and Acetaldehyde are just a few of the VOCs emitted by the burning of fossil fuels. Nitrogen Oxides and Sulfur Dioxides are compounds that irritate the lining of the lungs which can exacerbate respiratory illnesses and also constrict the airways of the lungs. Particles from Sulfur Dioxide have the potential to remain in the lung cavity for a prolonged period of time. Particulate Matter no bigger than 1/28th the diameter of a strand of human hair are small enough to penetrate the respiratory system’s natural defenses and transport their carcinogenic payload into the lungs.
What is alarming beyond words is the lack of short and long term health studies in the Virgin Islands. The rates of asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, lung cancer, heart disease in relation to Hydrocarbon Emissions have not been dutifully studied and recorded. Considering how our environment is inundated by numerous sources of hydrocarbon emissions it is absolutely necessary to get these studies done. Not surprisingly, our Caribbean neighbor, Puerto Rico, has conducted surveys and has found that the local population is two and a half times more likely to die from cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses than their continental counterparts due to diseases directly related to pollutants.
If you talk to people who have lived here all their lives or listen to the radio, the discussions surrounding illnesses and death specifically caused by Hydrocarbon Emissions are not uncommon. Shockingly, the Delegate To Congress of more than a decade and a half, who is a doctor by profession, may have spoken about conducting health studies regarding the chemical by products of hydrocarbon emissions but none have been done to date for if they were the results would be alarming. After doing a thorough search in PubMed which is a database of medical journals and articles published by the U.S. National Library Of Medicine and the National Institute Of Health, there is plenty of information available regarding the health and environmental effects of hydrocarbon emission in areas close to a refinery, within close proximity to a port city or a power plant but there was not a single citation found regarding short or long term human health studies pertaining to Hydrocarbon Emissions from any known source in the United States Virgin Islands. There was one study found which focused on fish populations and the effects of Hydrocarbon Emissions. Needless to say the news wasn’t good.
Senator Malone response to the pollution measure was the following; “My concerns are that, like they do all the time, they make decisions without input from the territorial government at the right level. It really should be the Governor and the Senate advised officially. How can you set these guidelines without our involvement?” Again, the information was always there and if Senate members needed to do an impact study, the onus was on them to take the initiative as they had more than ample time to do so.
According to the Virgin Islands Daily News, Senator Sanes understood the need for cleaner fuel but was quoted saying “we also need to look at the economic impact it’s going to have on our people.” Senator Sanes says he understands the need for cleaner fossil fuels but if that were truly the case he wouldn’t have voiced any opposition to the matter.
Although Senator Sanes’ concerns are duly noted what he fails to mention in terms of costs are the ones which are physiological, psychological and emotional that disease can inflict as the dollar amount on good health is incalculable. The by products of refining oil, cruise and cargo ship emissions and believe it or not the exhaust from the fuel that powers the turbines at the local water and power authority all play a contributing role in the detrimental and deteriorating effects of Human and Environmental health. If the ECA is to be the first of many steps to insure public health then it is absolutely imperative that it be made law.
The government has a responsibility, first and foremost to the people they represent and it is clearly alarming when more energy is focused on industry and the cost of goods from suppliers outside of the territory than finding creative solutions to maintain public health. Rather than focus on the impact the ECA would have on importing goods more energies should be devoted to produce goods here at home.
Buying from abroad has become, what used to be a matter of convenience, a matter of necessity and rendered Virgin Islanders, to a significant extent, co-dependent. Why are Virgin Islanders paying a premium on food imported to the territory when we have ample space for farming? If we are to weather out these difficult times as the economy the world over is suffering, we do ourselves a disservice by not investing more into the community and become self reliant. The rewards on self reliance are profound. From the perspective of health, eating food thats is fresh as opposed to days if not a week or more old has profound benefits. On the community level it instills a sense of confidence while on environmental side we lower our carbon footprint.
Senator Millin-Young voiced her concerns regarding the potential changes the ECA would have on tourism. It turns out that the Virgin Islands Daily News did a phenomenal job at fact finding (something her researchers and aids could have done) and deduced that the cost to a cruise passenger on a ship that has been retrofitted with proper equipment to burn cleaner fuel will cost a tourist about forty cents per day during their vacation. A small price that no rational person would oppose paying on principal alone as it is directly contributory to the health and vitality of the community. Why our representatives would put up any sort of resistance baffles the mind.
There’s nothing wrong with doing business so long as the business in question is both profitable and fundamentally good. When politicians cater to companies that engage in business practices which are detrimental to the community, the only word that comes to mind is contempt; Contempt for the scientific community who altruistically and diligently devotes time and resources towards alleviating the human condition and to the people whom they’ve sworn to serve.
The cruise lines and shipping companies are being held accountable to governmental standards more stringent than our own and for good measure. There is science behind it which validates the need to change how we live and conduct business. The governments perspective is that they could best benefit from Emission Control Area exemptions as this would prevent the cruise lines from going to other vacation destinations without any clean air and water regulations but there are countries the world over that are now beginning to recognize the scope, need and urgency to go green. If the cruise lines were to punish the Virgin Islands by significantly limiting the number of ships that make port in the territory on the basis of making the ECA law, it would send a clear message to patrons of tourism, the entire tourism industry, and the media of an immoral and unethical response to measures that desperately and justifiably need to be adopted. Our Senators need not be afraid of industry as industry should be held accountable and conform to the needs of the people whom they serve.
Governments are not perfect. People are people and as Senators are people too, it is inherent in them to sometimes demonstrate a bit of bad judgement as everyone is prone to make mistakes but in making a mistake an opportunity presents itself which allows us to rectify a bad situation and gain clarity. It is with this utmost sense of hope that our politicians recognize the validity and justification in these words and in so doing approach the public with humility, respect and reverse the decision that have been made regarding the Emission Control Area.
Sometimes people forget that nobody lives forever. There are always consequences for designs that have not been thoughtfully followed through to conclusion and if we don’t undo the damage that has been done, the ones who will pay the price for our arrogance and our ignorance will be future generations. Our children are our legacy, our immortality and we owe it to both them and ourselves to do what’s right.
We all have an invested stake in the good and welfare of our planet. It is unfortunate for us to discover that over the past two hundred years we’ve basically undone what took billions to get the planet balanced and functioning nominally for life to thrive and survive. In light of our collective predicament we are still obliged to do our part and insure that our descendants have a world free of the problems that we currently face. If we fail to act then the divine comedy, humanity, will cease to garner laughter as they’ll be no one left to appreciate the joke.
Thank you for your time and attention.
Founder & Chairman
Vote Green VI
Despite the resistance brought about by our local government regarding the Caribbean Emission Control initiative, The EPA and the International Maritime Organization, a sub committee of the United Nations went ahead and incorporated the territory in the end. Common sense and reason prevailed!