Cruise ships violated air quality standards on 14 separate days in Juneau last summer, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said. Violations also occurred in Glacier Bay National Park and in Seward, the agency said.
The EPA issued notices of violation Tuesday to six companies for air pollution coming from 13 ships in Alaska, said Don Dossett, an EPA compliance officer in Seattle.
The notices are a first step in a process that could lead to a maximum fine of $27,500 per ship per day and compliance orders requiring certain actions to be taken.
But first the companies will have a chance to meet with the EPA to go over the facts and bring forward any information they have, Dossett said.
Notices of violation were issued to Holland America Line-Westours, Princess Cruises, Celebrity Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Lines, Carnival Cruise Lines and World Explorer Cruises.
Erik Elvejord, a spokesman for Holland America Line-Westours,
said the company is pulling its records and plans to talk with the EPA.
``I think we feel they weren't violations, that the margin of error on smoke-reading is such that we were in the guidelines,'' he said. ``If there's a problem, we certainly want to address it.''
The notices allege the companies exceeded state opacity standards for air emissions, Dossett said. The standard is a way of measuring pollution by observing what can be seen through the smoke coming out of the stack.
More visibility means less pollution. ``It's an indicator of more complete combustion of the fuel,'' Dossett said.
The companies also failed to report those emissions violations to the state, the EPA said.
Reactions from cruise lines were varied, but many said they aren't sure EPA's readings are correct, and they will discuss that with the agency. They said they have high environmental standards, and some intend to improve on those.
And some companies said they are surprised EPA took this action because they are in the process of working cooperatively with regulatory agencies to address environmental problems associated with the industry in Alaska.
``The readings that the EPA is using as the basis for their notices of violation are a mere snapshot in time and are not indicative of normal operation,'' said Jennifer de la Cruz, a spokeswoman for Carnival Cruise Lines.
She said the company recognizes the importance of air emission standards and already takes steps to control its emissions. In addition, this summer the company will install a continuous air opacity monitor and will train some staff in the EPA method for gauging emission levels.
Princess Cruises will request a conference with EPA to discuss the matter, which it ``takes very seriously,'' the company said in a statement. Princess is working with regulators as well as with its technical managers to improve systems to minimize environmental impact, the company said.
Some in the industry objected that EPA was pursuing the action at a time when the cruise lines are working with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, the EPA, the U.S. Coast Guard and community members to improve their environmental practices.
``It is unfortunate that EPA's press release did not recognize that the companies have put a great deal of effort into this issue and they are presently working with EPA and the state to solve the problem,'' said Nancy Wheatley, senior vice president for safety and environment for Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. The company is the parent company of Celebrity Cruises and Royal Caribbean International.
``We're kind of surprised that, given the process we're going through now . . . that this came along to blind-side us,'' said Ron Valentine, vice president of operations at World Explorer Cruises in San Francisco. ``We're not sure why this is happening now, given the good faith efforts we're engaged in.''
Dossett said he didn't know what effect the EPA action would have on that process. But he said, ``It's two separate actions. What we're doing here is addressing past violations.'' The work group is to address future compliance, he said.