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Cruise ship wastewater permit appeal remanded back to DEC

Posted: June 11, 2011 - 9:56pm

A Juneau Superior Court has remanded a challenge to the 2010 cruise ship wastewater discharge permit back to the Department of Environmental Conservation this week. The challenge was put forth by Earth Island Institute’s Campaign to Safeguard America’s Waters (CSAW) and Friends of the Earth.

The appellants contend that the discharge standards in the permit should be higher than currently required to match the best performing systems already used in the fleets, or that DEC should refine various technologies that are economically feasible to allow fleets to meet the statutory directive under Alaska Clean Water Act standards.

“When DEC denied us a right to have a hearing on the permits we had no choice but to go to Superior Court,” said CSAW Project Director Gershon Cohen.

Superior Court Judge Patricia Collins moved the appeal back to DEC for consideration, citing the Department erred in both concluding that an advocacy group cannot seek wastewater permitting decision reviews at an agency level and that cruise ship wastewater permit decisions are not subject to judicial review.

The Court outlined several questions to aid the Department’s response. These include determining how the 2010 general permit includes the most technologically effective systems when pollution standards vary widely and how the Department justifies what systems are economically feasible.

Ruth Hamilton Heese, senior assistant attorney general with the Department of Law, said the important thing is that the court is not saying the current permit is flawed, but there are further issues for DEC to consider.

“She (Collins) hasn’t invalidated the permit. She’s just directed the Department that there are further issues the agency should consider,” said Heese.

Cruise lines can continue this season under the 2010 permit.

Associate attorney Shawn Eisele of Earthjustice, which represented the appellants, said the Court has just put a big burden on the agency.

“Frankly, I think it’s going to be difficult for the agency to justify those permits,” Eisele said. “It basically puts the weight back on the shoulders of DEC in doing their job to ensure clean water for Alaska.”

Eisele and Cohen said the Department had erred in issuing permits for ships to continue doing what they were when other ships in their fleets are doing better.

Heese said the State is still reviewing the decision and looking at the various issues the court raised. She said they will decide whether to appeal or take the administrative review ordered in the decision.

• Contact reporter Jonathan Grass at 523-2276 or jonathan.grass@juneauempire.com.

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