Efforts to Lower Pollution Standards For Cruise Ships Moving in Alaska Legislature

The Senate Finance Committee in the Alaska Legislature will
take public testimony on Feb. 7 on a measure that would lower wastewater
pollution standards for cruise ships approved in a 2006 citizens initiative.
The discussion on Senate Bill 29 comes on the heels of the
Alaska House passing a similar measure on Feb. 4. Both bills, initiated from
the office of Gov. Sean Parnell, would allow for release of millions of gallons
of cruise ship sewage and wastewater into Alaska waters. The measures would
delete 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 water quality standards governing
pollution at the point of discharge, except with specific documentation of
those discharges.
SB 29 and HB 80 would allow cruise ships to have mixing
zones for discharge of liquid and solid wastes in public water bodies.
Haines resident Gershon Cohen, a co-sponsor of the 2006
cruise ship ballot initiative, said these bills would essentially overturn a
fundamental provision of the cruise ship discharge law passed by popular vote.
Legislator Paul Seaton, representing the fishing community
of Homer on the Kenai Peninsula, said his main concern is that the bills
“remove the goal of lowering the discharge of toxics above the level allowed
under the Alaska Standards and substitutes the new standard of mixing zone
which they say they cannot measure.”
Representative Les Gara of Anchorage said the cruise ships
are like floating cities, with upwards of 3,500 passengers, and can dump 20,000
gallons of waste per ship a day. Both Seaton and Gara were among those in
opposition of the House bill.
United Fishermen of Alaska has so far has not commented on
either bill, but Julianne Curry, UFA’s new executive director, said the
organization’s executive committee is discussing whether to take a stand before
the Senate finance committee.