Bill Would Lessen Cruise Ship Discharge Standards

This poster illustrating cruise ship wastewater was displayed at a Sept. 20, 2012, science panel open house.
This poster illustrating cruise ship wastewater was displayed at a Sept. 20, 2012, science panel open house.

The Parnell Administration wants to change another part of the 2006 cruise ship initiative.

The voter-approved measure required strict new standards for wastewater discharges.

Bills introduced this session at the governor’s request would effectively allow more chemicals and minerals to be released into the water. Backers say the levels would still be safe.

Senate Bill 29 had its first hearing Wednesday before the Senate Resources Committee.

Environmental Conservation Commissioner Larry Hartig told the panel the bill would allow a more practical approach to controlling pollution.

“It recognizes that it’s really difficult, if not impossible, for many dischargers to meet the water quality standards at the point of discharge,” Hartig says. “So they allow a limited area of mixing the treated effluent … with the receiving water at the edge of the mixing zone. “

The industry has asked state officials to make such a change. Cruise lines say strong new standards that start in 2015 are impossible to meet.

Hartig says wastewater-control measures would remain in effect under the legislation.

“It can’t bioaccumulate, it can’t have toxic effects, it can’t affect anadromous fish that would be going through that area, it can’t affect that water body’s ability to produce aquatic life in the future. It just goes on and on about the things it can’t do,” Hartig says

The committee took no testimony, but the measure has opposition.

“I think the bill is unnecessary,” says Chip Thoma, president of Responsible Cruising in Alaska, which backed the 2006 initiative standards.

“And the reason is because the cruise ships and DEC have made such great improvements in the last few years in lessening the effects of some of their discharge problems,” Thomas says

Thoma and Hartig both agree it’s important to remove copper from cruise-ship wastewater. That’s because, among other things, it affects salmon behavior.

Thoma says copper-removal is an example of how new technology can reduce pollution.

“These are older ships that were all piped with copper. The new ships are all flex-piped with plastic. It’s an incredible revolution. Just in the last few years, we’ve eliminated the copper problem on the new ships,” he says.

An appointed science panel has been investigating technological solutions for about two years. Hartig says it hasn’t found economically-viable equipment.

The Senate Resources Committee will hold another hearing Friday afternoon where it will take public comments on the bill. An identical bill will be heard that day in the House Resources Committee.

The Legislature has already rolled back one part of the cruise ship initiative.

At the administration’s request, it reduced head taxes that fund local tourism projects by more than 50 percent. It did not change a portion of the tax that funds onboard environmental monitors.

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Ed Schoenfeld is Regional News Director for CoastAlaska, a consortium of public radio stations in Ketchikan, Juneau, Sitka, Petersburg and Wrangell. He primarily covers Southeast Alaska regional topics, including the state ferry system, transboundary mining, the Tongass National Forest and Native corporations and issues. He has also worked as a manager, editor and reporter for the Juneau Empire newspaper and Juneau public radio station KTOO. He’s also reported for commercial station KINY in Juneau and public stations KPFA in Berkley, WYSO in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and WUHY in Philadelphia. He’s lived in Alaska since 1979 and is a contributor to Alaska Public Radio Network newscasts, the Northwest (Public Radio) News Network and National Native News. He is a board member of the Alaska Press Club. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, he lives in Douglas.