Alaska Senate Opts for Weakening Cruise Ship Discharge Standards

Legislation approved Feb. 19 by the Alaska
Senate will weaken cruise ship wastewater discharge standards. The measure
brought to legislators by Gov. Sean Parnell, and opposed by many commercial
fishing interests, will become effective as soon as Parnell signs it into law.


House Bill 80 deletes a statutory
requirement for cruise ships to meet Alaska water quality standards at the
point of discharge. Current state law requires that commercial passenger ships
in state waters not discharge untreated sewage, treated sewage, graywater or
other wastewaters in a manner that violates effluent limits or standards under
state or federal law, including Alaska wastewater quality standards governing
pollution at the point of discharge, except with specific documentation of
those discharges. 

Legislators in the Republican controlled
Senate argued that the mixing zones that cruise ships would be allowed under
the bill are the same mixing zones now allowed for municipal wastewater
treatment plants, fish processors and others.

Alaska Cruise Association President John
Binkley said that to date the industry has spent more than $200 million to
install the latest advanced wastewater treatment systems on their ships and
that the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation has kept up with the
latest technology advances.  Binkley said
he’s confident enough about the wastewater that he’s willing to drink it.

But Michelle Ridgway, a marine ecologist
from Southeast Alaska who served on the cruise ship wastewater science panel,
urged Alaskans to identify their most vulnerable marine habitats and ask the
Department of Environmental Conservation to delineate them in regulation as
zero discharge zones.

“With the state pressing hard for allowing
ships to discharge along their routes in multiple ship moving mixing zones in
state waters, we have no choice but to launch a citizen’s marine spatial
planning effort to protect our most important sites from wastewater discharge –
whether important for biological or cultural heritage reasons,” Ridgway said.

“If we cannot control the contaminant level
of the billion or so gallons cruise ships discharge annually by meeting water
quality criteria at the pipe, we are left with few options, but to insist the
state develop this network of marine protected areas so there are some ocean
refuges from this significant pollution source,” she said.