By David Giambusso 5:41 a.m. | Jan. 22, 2015 1
Two administration officials are backpedaling after they “misspoke” during testimony before the City Council about the use of biodiesel fuel in New York City’s maritime fleet.
Councilmen Donovan Richards and Costa Constantinides introduced bills that would call for the introduction of biodiesel into some of the city’s maritime fleet, including sludge ships, operated by the Department of Environmental Protection, and the Staten Island Ferry, which is operated by the Department of Transportation.
Biodiesel is a form of fuel processed from renewable sources such as vegetables, seeds, or even discarded cooking oil. The industry refers to biodiesel mixtures as B5, B10, B20, etc., with the numbers referring to the percentage of biodiesel blended into regular fuels.
In sworn testimony before the Council, D.E.P. and D.O.T. officials offered various reasons that biodiesel would be a bad idea. Storage in cold water would lead to congealing of the fuel, and pumps would become clogged and seals broken, they said.
But during questioning by council members, the agency officials apparently tripped up on the issue of warranties.
“The engine manufacturers will not provide any warranty work should engines have a problem as a result of using biodiesel,” said Eric Landau, the D.E.P.’s associate commissioner for the Bureau of Public Affairs.
James DeSimone, chief operations officer at the Staten Island Ferry, made a similar comment.
“These are main engine vendors … E.M.D. or Caterpillar,” DeSimone told the Council. “All they want is fuel burned that meets their specifications. When you come in and say we want to trial something else, they’ll say go ahead and do it but we’re not going to warranty it.”
Capital contacted Caterpillar and Electro Motive Diesel (E.M.D.) to confirm the officials’ claims and found some conflicting information.
“We recommend blends up to B20 in certain instances, and therefore believe B5 usage is fine,” said Barbara Cox, a spokeswoman for Caterpillar.
E.M.D., which is owned by Caterpillar, said in a 2008 press release that its engines “are approved for use with fuel biodiesel blends.”
Chris Gilbride, a spokesman for the D.E.P., acknowledged Landau “misspoke” and that D.E.P.’s sludge engines are warrantied for use with 5 percent biodiesel. He said the Council legislation calls for an eventual increase to 20 percent blends, which poses a lot more complications for maritime use.
Landau issued a statement saying the department was eager to work with the Council on using cleaner burning fuels, but did not address the warranty issue.
“D.E.P. supports the intent of the legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in our marine fleet, but has concerns about biodiesel, most notably related to storage and delivery,” Landau said. “We look forward to continuing to work with the City Council and the US DOT Maritime Administration to make the fuel used by our marine fleet as clean and sustainable as possible.”
D.O.T. declined to comment on the record for this story but a spokesperson acknowledged that use of B5 is acceptable in most engines, though the Staten Island Ferry’s engines are not currently under warranty.
There are also few specific guidelines relating to the use of biodiesel in maritime vessels.
Richards said he would work with the administration to get more accurate information.
“There seems to be some disagreement between the testimony offered by the administration and the exact conditions of the warranty,” Richards said. “I’m happy to work with all parties to have the most accurate information available. Furthermore, warranties do not last forever so the conversation should focus on transitioning to the use of biodiesel for the wider benefit of the city.”