Industry opposition blows ship out spill bill out of water

Critics say legislation would cost cruise lines too much

Posted: Tuesday, April 18, 2000

A bill that would make cruise ships, other large vessels and the Alaska Railroad prepare to clean up fuel spills appears to be dead.

Its sponsor, Sen. President Drue Pearce, an Anchorage Republican, sent out a news release early today saying the bill ``appears to have been successfully killed at the request of industry representatives.''

Senate Bill 273 requires the Alaska Railroad and ships of 400 gross tons or larger to have oil spill prevention and cleanup plans.

While tankers that carry oil as cargo are required to have spill prevention and cleanup plans under state law, ships that carry large amounts of fuel to power their own operations are not. That includes cruise ships and large at-sea fish processors and trawlers.

The measure passed the state Senate, but ran into trouble in the House. After passing the House Resources Committee, it landed in the World Trade and State and Federal Relations Committee, which is headed by state Rep. Ramona Barnes.

Barnes, an Anchorage Republican, said she opposes the bill ``because of the economic impacts it has on the businesses in the state.'' She has not scheduled a hearing on it in her committee. The Legislature is planning to adjourn next Tuesday, and bills that haven't passed both the House and Senate will die.

Joe Kyle, executive director of the Alaska Steamship Association, whose members include the North West CruiseShip Association, said the group opposes the bill because it leaves too many details to be decided by Department of Environmental Conservation regulations. He also said the measure's costs to the industry are not clear.

Doug Donegan of Trident Seafoods expressed similar concerns.

John Hansen of the North West CruiseShip Association, said the organization doesn't disagree with the objectives of the bill, but there are ``question marks about how it's likely to unfold.''

``A lot of what's in the bill we're already doing in terms of improving the oil-spill response capacity in Southeast,'' Hansen said.

The group is spending $1.3 million to have oil spill response barges built that will be stationed in Southeast this summer, he said. Similar measures have not yet been taken in other parts of the state where cruise ships operate, he said.

Pearce, an Anchorage Republican, said her office has ``been flexible in addressing the concerns of industry so long as we were still meeting the intent of the legislation.''

It was envisioned that industries covered by the new legislation would join spill response cooperatives already in place throughout the state.

Estimates are that it would cost an average-sized cruise ship operating for four months in state waters 15 cents a passenger to comply, Pearce said. For a coal ship hauling an average load of coal, it would cost less than 1 cent per ton, she said, and for a freezer vessel hauling an average load of frozen fish, it would cost about 11 cents a ton, she said.

``I don't find these costs overly burdensome and I'm appalled that these same shipping companies comply with similar regulations in every other West Coast state, but their owners are unwilling to pay these nominal costs to protect Alaska's waters,'' Pearce said in the news release.

``This is especially true of Trident Seafoods, the North West CruiseShip Association, and even the Alaskan-owned Usibelli Coal Co.,'' she said. ``For the amount of money these companies have spent on their high-priced lobbyists, they could have complied with SB 273 for years.''

``I don't know what to say about that,'' Hansen said. ``I don't know where she gets those kind of estimates or numbers.''

Information on what those organizations have spent on lobbyists since lawmakers began meeting in January is not yet available, according to staff at the Alaska Public Offices Commission.

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