The state has rejected a request by two environmental groups for a hearing on the cruise ship wastewater discharge permit issued by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).

DEC found the Campaign to Safeguard America’s Waters and Friends of the Earth had no standing to request the hearing and "presented no significant legal issue meriting further proceedings."

The groups had challenged DEC’s decision to establish effluent limits based on the type of wastewater treatment system used aboard the ships instead of the "best available technology called for in state law," claiming that the Rochem system was superior to the others and the state should force all ships to install a Rochem system.

DEC rejected the argument, finding that "the fact that some vessels have used a Rochem system does not show, as a matter of law, that these systems are economically feasible for different vessels."

"There is nothing in the law that makes it inherently true, in all conceivable circumstances, that if a particular system is economically feasible in one context it is economically feasible in all," DEC found. "On the contrary, the legislative history of HB 134 shows that the bill’s proponents and Legislature understood that compliance requirements, and thus treatment systems, might differ from ship to ship."

HB 134 allows ADEC to issue a general permit to cruise ships that contains effluent limits, or standards, that are less stringent if the department finds that a ship is using "economically feasible methods of pollution prevention, control and treatment that the Department considers to be the most technologically effective in controlling all wastewater and other substances at the point of discharge."

The General Permit requires use of Advanced Wastewater Treatment Systems (AWTS) as a condition of discharge. "Because there are different manufacturers of AWTS and they produce varying levels of effluent quality, the General Permit includes effluent limits specific to the type of treatment system, ensuring that those systems that can do better than others are required to do so," the department said.

DEC Division of Water Director Lynn Kent said "the rules are designed to protect water quality and they do just that.

"Use of advanced wastewater treatment technology will more than protect water quality. When the ships are underway, pollutant levels will be virtually undetectable. Due to limited flushing and mixing when the ships are in port, the rules call for even stricter limits there.

"The appeal claims that one manufacturer makes a treatment system that is superior to others and demands that we require all ships to install that particular type of system. Legislation that passed in 2009 created a ‘science advisory panel’ to evaluate whether there is a superior type of treatment technology. The appeal would have us bypass the science advisory panel altogether.

"The science advisory panel could not find that a particular type of advanced wastewater treatment system is better than others. It needs to be allowed to do its job before anyone starts dictating that ships replace one type of wastewater treatment system with another.
In the meantime, Alaskans can rest assured that our waters are being carefully and thoroughly protected by the new cruise ship rules."

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