Don't allow ships to break law in secret

Posted: Friday, March 03, 2000

The Northwest CruiseShip Association, a trade group representing eight cruise lines operating in Alaska, has offered to test its air emissions and wastewater discharges and turn the results over to the state.

At first glance, we would have to say ``bravo.'' But of course there's a catch. The state can't use that information to punish the cruise lines. And the trade association also suggests that the names of ships breaking the law be withheld from the public.

Let's see how that would work in everyday life. ``Hello officer, yes, I just committed a crime, but here's all the information about what I did, and we did agreed if I told you about it then you wouldn't do anything; so have a nice day.''

Now proponents of this idea, known as an ``enforcement shield,'' say it's a fairly common practice between government and business. They argue it's a way to win concessions in other areas, like testing of air quality by the cruise lines, which isn't being done by the state right now. They also point out the state could use that data and start its own investigation.

All this is coming to light after major, high-profile dumping admissions last year resulting in multimillion dollar fines being levied against some cruise lines. Obviously, the cruise industry has a black eye in Southeast Alaska right now.

To its credit, the cruise line industry says it's committed to going beyond what is required by existing law to improve treatment of wastewater and develop cleaner-burning diesel fuels.

While we appreciate their attempts, much of this wasn't even on the table until certain lines were caught illegally dumping. And so, if this proposal is to work, then it would seem the cruise industry would want to be as open as possible with Southeast residents.

If the state does agree to this - in an effort to get the industry to pay for testing and related regulatory actions - why go along with all the secrecy?

What's wrong with saying that such and such a ship broke the law. While releasing the name, the industry could also point out what steps it was taking to correct the problem. Such openness would go a long way toward easy concerns about the cruise ships.

The cruise ships are a major industry for this community and a huge economic boom. They provide hundreds of jobs and bring in hundreds of thousands of tourists who spend money, boosting our economy.

Overall, they are a great asset to this community. And they have the opportunity to dramatically improve relations with Juneau residents by being open. Tell us - Juneau and Southeast residents, that is - truthfully what your air emissions are, tell us about your wastewater discharges, and tell us what you're doing to make improvements.

We offer this merely as a suggestion to an industry we believe is important to this community and with the understanding the cruise lines are serious when they say they want to improve their impacts on Alaska waters and air quality.

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