Ship spill bill buoyant again after losing some of its weight

Task force to work out details of ships' spill response plans

Posted: Thursday, April 27, 2000

A pollution prevention bill affecting cruise ships has been resuscitated. But it's lost some of its muscle.

Another measure that would tax the cruise industry, meanwhile, is still showing no signs of life.

Senate Bill 273, which had been held in Rep. Ramona Barnes' World Trade and State and Federal Relations Committee, was released Wednesday evening.

``Certainly what we have at this point I can live with,'' Barnes said.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Drue Pearce, an Anchorage Republican, initially required the Alaska Railroad, cruise ships and other large vessels to prove they could pay damages to the state if they spill fuel, and to have approved contingency plans for cleaning up a spill.

The latest version still calls for the financial responsibility requirements to be met by September.

But it leaves details to a task force of how companies will have to comply with spill response planning. That task force would come back with proposed legislation that would have to be approved by the Legislature before companies would need to comply. The compromise was suggested by Pearce.

The newest version also removes a provision that would have allowed the state Department of Environmental Conservation to inspect vessels.

Joe Kyle of the Alaska Steamship Association told the committee Wednesday his group supported the new version of the bill. However, he said he would like provisions allowing DEC to inspect ships to be discussed by the task force. The association represents a number of shippers affected by the bill, including the cruise ship industry.

The inspection provision wasn't necessary in the new stripped-down version of the bill, said Rep. Gail Phillips, a Homer Republican.

``I don't think this inspection authority is needed to check a certificate of financial responsibility,'' she said.

A companion measure, Senate Concurrent Resolution 1, setting up the task force, was approved Wednesday by a House-Senate conference committee.

Senate Bill 308, meanwhile, sits in Phillips' House Transportation Committee. She has said she will not hold a hearing on the bill, which calls for a $50 statewide head tax on cruise ship passengers.

The bill also would require cruise ships to provide information on what is in their air emissions and water discharges.

A local man, Chip Thoma, paid for radio spots and a full-page advertisement Wednesday in the Juneau Empire urging residents to call Phillips and Speaker of the House Brian Porter and ask them to allow a vote on the measure.

The newspaper ad called Sens. John Torgerson, Rick Halford and Pearce, who helped push SB 308 through the Senate, ``Alaskans working for Alaskans.''

By contrast, the ad called Phillips ``an Alaskan working for Panama,'' ``an Alaskan working for Liberia'' and ``an Alaskan working for the Bahamas'' -- a reference to where the large cruise ships are flagged.

Thoma, a state worker, said he wanted to make it clear the advertisements were not done using state resources. He said he paid for them personally and took leave to work on them and to discuss them with a reporter.

Phillips, who said she plans to run for governor in 2002, laughed off the advertisements. ``I sent him a note and thanked him for the publicity,'' she said. She still doesn't plan to hold a hearing on SB 308, she said.

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