Ship Tracks and Greenwashing
Whitewashing is defined as “a coordinated attempt to hide unpleasant facts, especially in a political context.” Greenwashing is a coordinated attempt to hide unpleasant facts in an environmental context. We are witnessing just such an attempt to hide the truth from Vallejo residents by the interests lobbying to build a private port and slag cement mill on our waterfront.
Slag cement is marketed as ‘green’ by the industry because it substitutes a granular slag byproduct of iron and steel production for some of the baked limestone used in ordinary portland cement. Quarrying and baking limestone produces greenhouse gases and other air pollutants. Substituting a recycled material reduces the need for firing kilns in the overall production process.
A closer look reveals that the green sheen on this project is nothing but window dressing. The slag would not come from local sources but instead from unnamed sources across the Pacific. Huge cargo ships would arrive weekly and run their auxiliary diesel engines while disgorging slag into forty foot high open piles on the waterfront. Those large cargo vessels increasingly contribute to global warming and air pollution by burning huge quantities of diesel oil and dirty bunker fuel when out in the open ocean, which releases greenhouse gases and particulate pollutants into the atmosphere. California clean air standards only require switching to a more refined fuel within 24 miles of the coast, while air pollution reaches us all the way from China.
Ship Tracks off the California Coast
The Guardian reported in 2009 that in one year, a single large container ship can emit cancer and asthma-causing pollutants equivalent to that of 50 million cars. The low grade bunker fuel used by the worlds 90,000 cargo ships contains up to 2,000 times the amount of sulfur compared to diesel fuel used in automobiles. In satellite images the tracks of cargo ships are clearly visible off the California coast, as water droplets form around the pollution particles from ship exhaust.
Researchers have demonstrated that ship emissions pose a clear hazard to human health. Shipping exhaust exposes large numbers of people in coastal cites to high levels of health-damaging particulates. A study published in Environmental Science & Technology concluded that shipping-related particulate matter is responsible for 60,000 premature deaths each year. Sorry, but there is nothing green about burning the poorly refined fuel that drives cargo vessels across the Pacific as a substitute for the emissions from portland cement clinker kilns.
The draft Environmental Impact Report explicitly states that slag cement would be just one production mode of the proposed mill along with ordinary cement. And the proposed ‘green cement’ mill is only one piece of a larger project that would bring a host of negative impacts that would affect the quality of life in Vallejo for many decades to come. The draft Environmental Impact Report details a number of these consequences, and we encourage anyone with an interest in the future to read the Summary of Potentially Significant Environmental Impacts section near the beginning of the DEIR. You can find it posted on the City website at: http://www.cityofvallejo.net/cms/one.aspx?pageId=504593 (takes a little while to load).
The associated Economic Impact report relies on another form of greenwashing by talking up “indirect and induced jobs” in an attempt to avoid another unpleasant truth. The project creates few jobs and returns little green in the form of revenue to the City, mostly just utility taxes. The application itself projects twenty to thirty jobs, and the inflated numbers touted in the report are just speculative consultant fiction. The property is ripe for the kind of successful adaptive reuse of historic grain mill facilities found in nearby cities like Napa and Sacramento. It would be easy to come up with all sorts of indirect and induced job numbers for alternative uses that would look as good or better.
The Orcem/VMT project does not fit at all with the forward-looking planning scenario for our waterfront that came out of the Propel Vallejo initiative. The City just spent three million dollars over a period of years to develop a vision for the twenty-first century with broad citizen input. This backward-looking project would block the implementation of that vision for well over half a century.
Don’t be fooled by the slick marketing of professional consultants who will try and paint this dirty project a lovely shade of green. Scratch the surface and the truth is plain to see. The sales pitch we're hearing is a classic example of greenwashing a project to hide the inconvenient facts.