Cruise Ship Waste Water Bill Goes To Gov. Parnell

The first bill to land on Gov. Sean Parnell’s desk will be one that he introduced.

The measure relaxes regulations on cruise ships, and lets them use mixing zones when they release waste. By doing that, it strikes part of a citizens’ initiative requiring vessels to meet clean water standards at the point of discharge.

Minority Democrats in the Senate cited that as a reason for opposing the bill during their floor speeches. Sen. Johnny Ellis, who represents an Anchorage district, said his constituents had concerns about the legislature rolling back a measure that they had voted on.

“These were not environmentalists. They were not part of the organized conservation community. They were regular Alaskans, who participated in the citizen’s initiative and encouraged me in no uncertain terms to be very, very cautious about overturning citizens’ initiatives. That that’s a dangerous road to go down when we think that can be toyed with lightly,” Ellis said.

Sen. Lesil McGuire, a Republican from Anchorage and a supporter of the bill, responded that some voters might have misunderstood what the initiative actually required.

“When you sit back and look at voter psychology, when people go into the ballot booths, it’s not clear that voters always understand what they’re voting on, to be honest. Alaskans are very smart, savvy people — intellectuals — but a lot of it comes down to the information that they’re presented with as they go into that booth,” McGuire said.

She said that the original initiative had used charged language to describe the way cruise ships processed their waste water.

Debate also focused on whether cruise ships had the technology available to meet more stringent standards, and it considered impact to the state’s fisheries. Conservation groups, tribal organizations, and some members of the fishing industry had come out in opposition to the bill, with the cruise ship industry saying that they need the regulation change for their vessels to get permitted in Alaska.

The bill ultimately passed the Senate on a 14-6 vote. Sen. Lyman Hoffman, a Democrat from Bethel, joined the majority in approving the measure. The bill passed the House earlier this month on similar party lines.

Listen to the full story

Download Audio