Gov. Tony Knowles says he suspects the cruise ship industry is behind a new bill that has looser oversight of marine discharges than he supports.
"It's an 11th-hour surprise; we don't know where it came from," said Knowles in an interview Thursday. "I just wonder who the ghost writer was."
He has placed calls to the chief executive officers of the parent companies of Holland America, Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean. He hadn't reached them as of mid-morning today.
"I'm going to tell them that the situation in Alaska is a code red, as far as I'm concerned, with the industry," the governor said. "If they are behind it, they have reneged and double-crossed Alaskans on their word."
Industry representatives have been vague about their interaction with Republican House members who drafted the bill. Cruise executives have not responded to Knowles' assertions that they promised him in November to back his state legislation.
The new bill, sponsored by the House Finance Committee, would be the first cruise ship law passed by any state. Even so, it angered Rep. Beth Kerttula, a Juneau Democrat, Environmental Conservation Commissioner Michele Brown, and environmentalists who have been active on the issue.
Kerttula has a stronger bill that has passed two committees but is not being heard in the House Finance Committee. Knowles' bill, assigned to four committees, has been heard by none.
House Finance Co-Chairman Eldon Mulder, an Anchorage Republican, isn't simply amending Kerttula's bill. On Thursday, he said he wanted a new bill because he wants to keep control of the legislation and prevent Knowles' proposed permit system from being added to it.
"Certainly Beth's going to be more impressed by the governor than we are," Mulder said.
The reason for Mulder's intervention is unclear, given that his Anchorage district isn't directly affected by cruise ships. He said he wants to head off "an ill-defined process established by bureaucrats" if a permit system was put in place.
"It does not have what I call the death sentence in it," Mulder said. By revoking a cruise company's permit for environmental violations, the state would cost the economy millions of dollars, he said.
Asked by reporters if he was influenced by the fact that his wife, Wendy, works for the lobbyist for the North West CruiseShip Association, he brusquely declared it "irrelevant."
The bill, like Kerttula's, would require cruise ships by 2003 to apply the federal standard for treated sewage to discharges of graywater, which is collected from sinks, galleys, showers and laundries.
But the bill allows that standard to be superseded by any graywater standard ultimately adopted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Because the reference is to a prospective regulation rather than an existing one, Craig Tillery of the Department of Law said in a committee hearing today that such a provision is likely to be struck down by the courts as "an illegal delegation of authority by the Legislature." Mulder told Tillery that he was "staking your legal and professional credibility on the line."
Brown of DEC said the federal cruise ship legislation passed last year specifically noted that Alaska could adopt its own regulations.
"I think that we would be only the state in America that turned over some of our clean water standards to the EPA," Knowles said.
Brown said Mulder's bill is deficient because it allows the industry to do its own tests and reports on wastewater discharges, without independent monitoring authority for the state. That's "naive," given the industry's track record of polluting Alaska water while executives insisted their discharges were clean, she said.
She also took exception to the fact that Mulder's bill targets only fecal coliform bacteria and a few other pollutants, not the toxic chemicals that Royal Caribbean dumped in Gastineau Channel and Lynn Canal in 1994-95, leading to multi-million dollar federal and state fines.
Also, without a standard for chlorine, cruise ships could eliminate fecal coliform by using chlorine, which is far more dangerous for aquatic life, Brown said.
"In sum, this bill concerns itself only with poop," Robert Reges of Cruise Control, a Juneau-based environmental group, wrote in an analysis of the bill. Sections on air and solid waste are addressed by Kerttula's and Knowles' bills.
John Hansen, president of the North West CruiseShip Association in Vancouver, British Columbia, said he hasn't had enough time to read Mulder's bill and compare it with Kerttula's bill, which he had appeared to endorse during testimony before the House Transportation Committee on April 19. Hansen said today, though, that he "supported the bill generally" but not necessarily all of its provisions.
Asked if the industry still wants the Kerttula bill passed or now prefers Mulder's bill, Hansen said: "The answer at this moment is that there are some questions that need to be addressed."
Tom Dow of Princess Cruises and Al Parrish of Holland America, who were in long negotiations with Brown and Kerttula earlier this week, did not attend this morning's House Finance Committee hearing.
Knowles said he will press for his own bill "with whatever resources we have."
Bill McAllister can be reached at email@example.com.