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The cruise industry and fairness

Posted: February 17, 2013 - 1:19am

Cruise line advocates say they are treated unfairly by the 2006 citizen initiative that requires them to meet Alaska Water Quality Standards at the point of discharge. “All of the communities get mixing zones,” they say. “Even the fish processing plants get mixing zones; it’s not fair we’re treated differently.”

Fairness is a concept we can all understand. Many a child has whined “but that’s not fair” when restricted from something someone else gets or that they haven’t earned, but want and feel entitled to (or hope that enough whining will wear the parent to acquiesce).

Sometimes rewards are withheld because of past behavior. Alaska voters may have felt that the cruise lines’ felonious acts of pollution and covering up for long patterns of pollution (e.g., Royal Caribbean — 21 federal felony count plea agreement in 1999; Carnival Corporation — in 2002 $18 million in fines for falsifying records relating to illegal dumping from 1996-2001; Norwegian Cruise Lines — felony violation of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships in 2002) and other known violations (e.g., Celebrity Cruises — dumping in Washington waters in 2005) warranted strict and measurable standards to protect Alaska waters. Sadly, polluting appears to be an ongoing pattern. In August 2012 residents of Nahant, Mass. found macerated sewage waste that included a room tag from a Holland America ship on their beach. And in January 2013 Princess was fined for releasing wastewater in Glacier Bay in May 2011.

Sometimes all the legal cards can be lined up in one’s favor to gain an unfair advantage, and that isn’t fair. Alaska shore-based businesses pay U.S. income taxes on their earnings. They must hire workers who have the right to employment in the U.S. and pay U.S. (and Alaska) minimum wages. Under most circumstances they must pay worker’s compensation insurance and pay into Social Security. Foreign-flagged cruise lines pay no income tax on cruise earnings — in 2012 Carnival paid $4 million in income taxes, largely from Alaska shore-based operations, and reported $1.3 billion in profits, although the offices are in the United States, the passengers are largely Americans, and cruise lines rely on American Coast Guard and other authorities for medivacs, rescues and support. The U.S. Navy alone spent an unreimbursed $1,884,376.75 responding to the Carnival Splendor in 2010. The Coast Guard was on scene with the recent Carnival Triumph incident.

Sometimes a higher public purpose means that not everyone is treated fairly. Think Veterans preferences and senior citizen tax exemptions. Municipal waste processing and Alaska Marine Highway ferries serve public purposes that support the broader community. Would it be ideal for them to not require mixing zones to meet Alaska Water Quality standards? Certainly. Is their inability to meet standards at the point of discharge a reason to let cruise lines externalize their costs by polluting our waters? No.

Alaska Cruise Industry Association President (and former State Senator) John Binkley has been carrying the “it’s not fair” whine around the Capitol Building full time, passing out talking point cheat sheets to those legislators who will carry the cruise industry’s message. Alaska’s response should be that the cruise industry must invest the resources to meet our water quality standards at the point of discharge or don’t discharge in our waters. You have room for waterslides, shopping malls and casinos on your ships; you can make room for water treatment. You missed the chance for negotiation by rushing this bill through. Alaskans’ answer now is a non-negotiable NO on HB 80. Now go clean your water.

• Karla Hart is a lifelong Alaskan who has carefully observed the cruise industry since first working as a shore excursion agent in1984. This is a personal opinion piece. She is representing Alaska Community Action on Topics (ACAT) in Juneau during the 2013 Leglslative Session. ACAT believes that everyone has the right to clean air, clean water, and toxic-free food.

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