House Bill 134, after a thorough review by the State House of Representatives, is headed to the floor for a vote of the full House membership.
HB 134 was introduced by Rep. John Harris, R-Valdez, and cosponsored by 11 of his legislative colleagues. The bill would give the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (ADEC) the ability to use the best science and available technology to determine wastewater discharge standards for cruise ships.
Harris said the bill would not diminish water-pollution standards, nor would it stop the implementation of new pollution-control technology. It simply allows cruise ships to meet Alaska’s tough water quality standards within feet of the discharge pipe rather than at the point of discharge, as mandated in the 2006 initiative. Cruise ships would continue to have the most advanced treatment systems of all dischargers in Alaska and would only be entitled to a variance from the “end-of-pipe ” standard if they demonstrate they are using the most technologically effective and economically feasible methods.
Alaskans turned out in support of the bill during public hearings in both the House Community and Regional Affairs Committee and the House Resources Committee. Testimony from those participating in the public comment process ranged from Ketchikan to Fairbanks and was overwhelmingly in support of the bill. A sampling of the supportive comments include:
Ketchikan Mayor Bob Weinstein told legislators: “Science, not politics, should determine policy.” Also from Ketchikan, Shawna Lee pointed out that “the cruise ship industry has been very proactive” in developing advanced wastewater treatment facilities. Michael Richard of Fairbanks said, “Tourism trickles down even to the coffee shop on the corner. It’s good for Fairbanks as well as the rest of Alaska.” Karen Hess of Haines called HB 134 “the most logical and reasonable position for the legislature to take. We’ve already seen one ship pulled from the 2010 schedule.”
Several groups testified in support of the bill, including Jeremy Woodrow of the Alaska Municipal League who said doing nothing “would leave large financial gaps in the economies of many coastal communities.” Cheryl Metiva from the Wasilla Chamber of Commerce told legislators, “No community in Alaska can meet the end-of-pipe limitation. It’s a totally unrealistic expectation, yet we’re expecting that from an industry that’s a cornerstone of our economy.”
HB 134 has received broad support from communities across the state. Forty-five communities and organizations to date have passed resolutions endorsing this bill.
During testimony, the Department of Environmental Conservation testified that they are not aware of any technology that exists and could be installed on cruise ships to meet the “at the point of discharge” standard required by 2010 under the initiative. The original bill proposed to remove the language “at the point of discharge” and let DEC establish permit conditions on how to meet Alaska’s water quality standards, using the best science. This is the process DEC follows for all other dischargers in Alaska.
However, individual legislators expressed concern with removing the “at the point of discharge” from state statues. To address the concern, the House Resources Committee tasked Commissioner Larry Hartig with working with the bill sponsor to develop alternative language.
After one week of review and drafting, the House Resources Committee adopted a new version that:
- Leaves the “at the point of discharge” standard in statute.
- Allows for a variance of the standards as long as the cruise ships use the most technologically effective and economically feasible methods.
- Prohibits discharges that are less stringent than those currently being met.
- Creates an advisory science panel on wastewater treatment.
- Requires DEC to report back to the Legislature on the status of advancing technology.
An additional amendment was offered but not adopted. The amendment would have, in five years, removed DEC’s ability to consider any option other than “at the point of discharge” standard even if technology had still not been developed. “This amendment would have in effect, taken us back to square one and negated all the good work applying the best science and technology to the marine environment,” said Co-Chairman Mark Neuman.
The new version is available online at: http://www.legis.state.ak.us/basis/get_complete_bill.asp?session=26&bill=HB134.
Hopefully, the bill will receive favorable consideration by the House this week and be transmitted to the Senate for consideration. If you would like to support this effort, please contact individual legislators requesting their vote for the bill and to oppose any amendment that would lessen DEC’s ability to use science when establishing permit conditions.