Activists petition EPA to act on cruise waste
By FERNAND CHANDONNET
THE JUNEAU EMPIRE
The environmental group Bluewater Network and 53 other organizations filed a petition Tuesday with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to address what they call the ``titanic amount of pollution being caused by cruise ships.''
The petition highlights loopholes and exemptions in environmental law that should be controlling pollution caused by the ships, according to the San Francisco group's spokeswoman, Kira Schmidt.
``The regulations were formulated with passage of the Clean Water Act in the early 1970s,'' Schmidt said. ``And they haven't been updated since cruise ships became huge floating cities.''
Cruise ship companies themselves apply to the EPA to be included within certain categories. Often the ships are rated, no matter their size, as ``small-quantity generators,'' which means they produce less than 220 pounds of waste per month, she said.
``Once the EPA gets a good handle on the amount of waste produced - something they don't have now - they're going to realize the regulations are inadequate,'' Schmidt said.
Bluewater is promoting legislation in California and Alaska to address cruise ship pollution.
House Bill 371, sponsored by Juneau Democratic Rep. Beth Kerttula, requires cruise ships in Alaska waters to report to the state the quantities and characteristics of all pollution discharged into state waters, as well as wastes offloaded at Alaska ports.
A report accompanying the petition to the EPA explains that a typical cruise ship on a one-week voyage generates approximately eight tons of garbage, a million gallons of ``gray water,'' 200,000 gallons of sewage, 25,000 gallons of oil-contaminated water, and an undetermined amount of hazardous waste.
Gray water is wastewater from sinks, galleys, showers and laundries.
The cruise lines are working with federal, state and local organizations to resolve those concerns, according to North West CruiseShip Association President John Hansen. The Vancouver, B.C., group represents the interests of cruise lines operating in Alaska.
The industry has already signed a memorandum of understanding for ``certain environmental practices'' with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Hansen said.
His group is currently conferring with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation on such concerns as ``doughnut holes'' - areas within Alaska's Inside Passage exempt from EPA regulations on the discharge of certain ships' wastes - and the cessation of all ship discharging in Alaska ports.
``Discussions with DEC and the Coast Guard have been very productive, so far,'' Hansen said.
The EPA issued notices of air pollution violations to cruise ships in Juneau's harbor as recently as three weeks ago, said Juneau Assembly member Jim Powell. ``What is required here is not only a national effort, but also a regional and local effort.''
Powell is chairman of the city Lands Committee, which has been considering cruise ship air and water pollution and hopes to have a cruise ship air pollution monitoring system operating in Juneau by summer.
``We've got equipment coming in from the federal, state and local governments. We're going to attack it this summer,'' he said.
``We want the cruise ships, but we want them managed,'' Powell said.
A bill that would require big cruise ships to report on the kinds and amounts of pollutants they're producing made its first legislative port of call Tuesday.
It cruised through the House Transportation Committee on a 3-2 vote.
House Bill 371 would mandate that passenger ships over 300 gross tons - big cruise ships - register with the state and file pollutant reports with the Department of Environmental Conservation.
About 550 cruise ships visited Alaska last summer, bringing in about 700,000 tourists, said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Beth Kerttula.
The Juneau Democrat said cruise ship companies wouldn't need to spend a lot of money to meet the bill's requirements. All she wants, she said, is for the cruise lines to let the state know how much potentially foul material - dishwater, treated sewage and smoke stack emissions - the ships are producing.
That information is lacking today, she said.
``The bill is basically a right-to-know bill,'' she said. ``We've seen some problems with waste.''
She said the bill would put the cruise ship industry in line with the mining, oil and seafood processing industries, which all must submit environmental reports with the state.
No representatives of the major cruise lines testified at the hearing. All those who did testify favored the measure, including representatives of the Department of Environmental Conservation, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Coast Guard and cruise lines running smaller vessels not covered by the bill.
``We don't have the facts about the environmental impacts of these floating cities . . . and that is unacceptable,'' said Mike Conway, with DEC.
The bill moved out of the committee with the support of Reps. Andrew Halcro, an Anchorage Republican, and Democrats Al Kookesh of Angoon and Allen Kemplen of Anchorage.
The two no votes came from Republican Reps. John Cowdery of Anchorage and Willow's Beverly Masek. Cowdery said he wasn't convinced the system is broken. And Masek said the bill seemed to duplicate work already begun by the state.
The measure has three more House committees - Labor and Commerce, Resources and Finance - to get through before it can go to the House floor. If the full House then approves the bill, it would go through the Senate committee process before Gov. Tony Knowles would have a chance to sign it.
With the legislative session more than halfway over, Kerttula said she realizes time may be running out on the measure.
``I always have hope,'' she said. ``It's an uphill battle. (But) we got a great first hearing, and we're under way.''