Legislators debate removal of cruise panel member Cohen

Cruise ally defends removal of industry foe

Posted: Sunday, January 31, 2010

An Anchorage legislator is defending the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation's decision to remove Haines activist Gershon Cohen from a cruise ship science advisory panel.

Michael Penn/Juneau Empire
Michael Penn/Juneau Empire

Rep. Craig Johnson, R-Anchorage, said on the House floor Friday that he opposed having Cohen on the panel, and supported his dismissal.

"I applaud the department for doing the right thing and depoliticizing the panel," he said.

Johnson said science was too often being politicized.

"Some of the science has been called into question, regarding some of the climate changes that have been based on politics," he said.

The Legislature created the science panel last year as one of several changes made to the cruise ship initiative passed by voters in 2006. It is intended to advise the state on wastewater treatment options.

Johnson said he had urged that initiative sponsors such as Cohen not be appointed while the bill was first being considered.

"I asked the department not to do that, in committee, after committee," he said. "They did it anyway," he said.

Cohen was appointed to a seat on the panel reserved for a member of a non-governmental organization. He is a member of Responsible Cruising for Alaska, the initiative's sponsor.

Cohen has a master's degree in molecular biology and a doctorate in environmental policy.

Another seat on the panel is reserved for a cruise industry representative. That seat is held by a paralegal working for a law firm that frequently represents the industry on regulatory issues.

Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, prompted Johnson's remarks when she complained on the House floor that legislators seeking explanations for Cohen's removal had yet to hear from the department.

"A number of us have grave, grave concerns about the agency's behavior and about the credibility of the panel as it will now be," she said.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 586-4816 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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