Cruise monitoring needs solid data

Posted: Wednesday, March 22, 2000

Alaskans are concerned about how the cruise ship industry is impacting our air and water, and what the industry is doing to control and mitigate the wastes it creates. We need information. We need answers. We need sound waste management. And we need monitoring and verification. The best way to get there is through an open, full discussion. That discussion takes a willingness by all the parties involved to listen, a commitment to act and thoughtful analysis.

Three months ago, we opened the dialogue to thoroughly review the industry's waste management and disposal practices, and to publicly discuss what is currently being done and what should be done to improve the situation. The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation asked the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Southeast Conference (a group representing Southeast Alaska communities) to join cruise ship industry officials for a discussion on ways to improve controls on cruise ship pollution. Clear objectives were set out to identify the waste streams and spill risks that could impact Alaska's air and water resources; develop pollution prevention and waste management solutions that will eliminate or reduce impacts, including better technology and management practices; assess what process is needed to verify compliance; and keep Alaskans informed.

Work groups have begun fact finding on air emissions, wastewater discharges, waste disposal management, oil spill prevention and response, and environmental leadership. Those groups will prepare reports which will be widely circulated for public review and comment. Once we have accurate facts that we know are sound, we can then structure management and regulatory decision making upon that foundation.

The work groups will be making public reports on that aspect of their work as well. We're on a very aggressive schedule. We want a good handle on all the facts when the first cruise ships arrive in Southeast in a few months. And we are seeing progress. The cruise ship industry committed to no waste discharge into so called ``donut holes'' - areas beyond our three mile limit but within the inside waters of Southeast Alaska - and will stage additional oil pollution response equipment in Southeast.

Although we're all eager for solutions, casting blame or rushing to conclusions will only delay sound outcomes. Lots of ideas will be explored. That's exactly how it should work. Some recent press reports, though, have focussed on one or two of those ideas and expressed them as done deals. They aren't. Some reports suggested that the cruise ship industry has been offered the option of solely voluntary compliance and an ``enforcement shield'' to protect them against any enforcement action taken from data they submit to state or federal agencies. This is not the case. Full compliance with applicable laws and regulations has never been at issue. We all want action.

The Department of Environmental Conservation and the U.S. Coast Guard are critically concerned about the wastes that enter our environment from cruise ships. We are committed to determining proper monitoring procedures for cruise ship operations and to assessing water and air quality conditions to determine actual pollution levels and sources. However, we must be sure the actions we take do indeed protect our air, water and shoreline. We all need to work together to collect and scrutinize the necessary facts upon which we can make the right decisions to monitor and control pollution.

Work group members include local government, environmentalists, industry, and community members. The work group meetings are open. Please join us in that discussion.

Michele Brown is the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral Thomas J. Barrett is the commander of the 17th Coast Guard District and commander of the U.S. Naval Forces Alaska. The work group's activities can be tracked at DEC's Web site:

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