Charleston port tries to prevent shoreside power for cruise ships, despite pollution reductions

SELC and our partners have challenged a permit for a new cruise ship terminal that would be built in downtown Charleston with cruise ships over 100 feet tall towering over the historic district.  (© Dana Beach)

As Charleston grapples with balancing an exploding cruise ship industry—and its accompanying air pollution, traffic, and large crowds—with the city’s unique and historic downtown, port authorities are resisting efforts to minimize emissions from the ships.

SELC and our partners have long advocated for installing shore power for the massive cruise ships, rather than allowing them to idle their engines while in port and contribute to air pollution. Despite the Charleston City Council promoting this approach in the city’s Tourism Management Plan, approved this week, State Port Authority officials have cut the conversation short with strong opposition to shore power. The Post and Courier reported this week that port officials have even discouraged Carnival Cruise executives from publicly discussing shore power, which was revealed through emails obtained by SELC under the Freedom of Information Act. 

The port authority’s failure to listen to community concerns about the dominant cruise industry reflects a broader pattern in recent years, as noted in a strongly worded editorial by The Post and Courier this week. There have been multiple efforts by communities to guarantee that Carnival follows local laws that protect the city’s healthy environment, treasured historic assets, and booming tourism industry—but there’s been opposition from the State Port Authority at every step.

SELC and our local partners have worked to ensure that any expansion balances Charleston’s unique historic charm with sensible cruise ship operations. We successfully challenged a federal permit for a new cruise ship terminal that, as planned, would be built in downtown Charleston's historic district with cruise ships over 100 feet tall towering over three-story, colonial-era buildings and church steeples. Thanks to our federal challenge, the permit is being reconsidered by the Army Corps of Engineers.

We also filed suit in state courts on behalf of neighborhoods and conservation groups to establish that Carnival is indeed subject to local laws that protect the city’s healthy environment and job-creating historic assets. We are appealing the ruling by a South Carolina administrative judge that neighbors living right next to a proposed $35 million cruise terminal had no right to seek better environmental protection. As the Associated Press reports, final briefs were recently filed in that case.

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