House Bill 134, which would amend a wastewater discharge provision in the cruise ship law that voters approved in 2006, moved out of the Community and Regional Affairs Committee earlier this month on a 5-2 vote.
Rep. John Harris, R-Valdez, along with 10 legislators, introduced an amendment to the 2006 initiative that would allow the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (ADEC) to do its job when it issues permits to cruise ships for discharge of treated wastewater. The amendment eliminates the words “at the point of discharge.” This change gives the ADEC the ability to set policy and enforcement provisions as they do for other industrial users and coastal communities, said Rep. Harris. “It does not diminish wastewater discharge standards – it simply gives the DEC more tools to implement the standards.”
Without the change in the language, many of the ships that travel to Alaska will be unable to meet water quality standards for ammonia and some trace metals. Ketchikan Mayor Bob Weinstein said: “The bill is designed to remove an arbitrary standard, and replace it with a scientific standard.”
ADEC staff confirmed at the hearing that while there are many land-based wastewater treatment systems, there is likely no solution for 2010 that would put the cruise ships in compliance with the new regulations, and that there are other provisions in the bill to ensure they are using the best possible practices.
John Binkley, President of the Alaska Cruise Association, said the bill corrects an error in the original initiative. “The current standard is so strict that even traces of copper found in tap water would exceed the allowable limit. The ‘end-of-pipe’ standard is not what residents were told they were voting on in 2006, he said. Initiative sponsors made it clear to the public “that this measure will make the cruise industry adhere to the same pollution standards as fisheries, municipalities, and gas and oil companies.”
Forty-four municipalities and organizations – from Ketchikan to Fairbanks – have passed resolutions asking for this legislation.
“These entities represent virtually the entire population of Alaska,” Binkley said. “One of them – the Alaska Municipal League – is a statewide organization of 140 cities, boroughs, and unified municipalities that encompasses more than 97 percent of the state’s residents.”
Local governments that have passed resolutions include Juneau, Ketchikan, Seward and Whittier. Statewide organizations include Alaska State Chamber of Commerce, Alaska Travel Industry Association, Alaska Bed & Breakfast Association, Alaska Campground Owners Association, Alaska Hotel & Lodging Association and Alaska Municipal League.
The Anchorage Daily News supports a revision to the discharge standards. In an editorial published earlier this month, the newspaper wrote: “First, we’ve argued that the cruise lines have a case in appealing the initiative’s waste discharge standards, which are far stricter than any imposed on shore-based treatment – and for an industry that already pollutes far less than shore-based systems. The Department of Environmental Conservation could use some discretion in setting more realistic limits. That would require the Legislature to amend the 2006 initiative.”
To see Representative Harris’ press release, please click here: www.housemajority.org/item.php?id=harr20090213-70
To view the bill and track the progress, please click here: www.legis.state.ak.us/basis/get_bill.asp?bill=HB%20134&session=26