A special session of the Legislature on cruise ship pollution now looks likely.
Senate Transportation Committee Chairman John Cowdery refused on Sunday to move a bill that passed the House 35-3 and has the strong support of Gov. Tony Knowles.
Knowles, a Democrat, placed a follow-up phone call to the Anchorage Republican senator, but couldn't budge him, the governor said.
Jim Ayers, Knowles' chief of staff, said this morning that it doesn't appear the Legislature will deal with the bill by Tuesday's midnight adjournment deadline, barring a sudden "conversion."
"St. Paul got knocked off his horse, but I don't see that happening here," Ayers said.
Sunday's committee discussion didn't focus on the content of the bill but repeatedly digressed into a critique of municipal sewage treatment in Juneau and elsewhere. Cowdery and fellow Republicans Robin Taylor of Wrangell and Jerry Ward of Anchorage said the state shouldn't require cruise ships to clean up their marine discharges when Alaskans are polluting their own water.
"The publicity was very disturbing to me," Cowdery said. "I got
letters from Japan. ... If we've got problems in Alaska, we should solve them here in the family."
Tom Dow, representing the nine foreign-flagged companies in the North West CruiseShip Association, testified in favor of the bill. "We can live with this," he said.
But Ward stood up for the companies. "I think it was very poorly done, the attack on this industry. ... Maybe they are big, terrible violators. Maybe the on-shore people are, too."
The Republicans noted the excessive sewage discharges from the Bonnie Brae subdivision in North Douglas and the recent conviction of Andrew Bronson, Juneau's wastewater treatment plant superintendent, on two counts of violating the Clean Water Act by tampering with effluent samples.
"I don't think we want to look too hypocritical," Taylor said. "Sooner or later, folks, you've got to look in the mirror."
The move to regulate cruise ships is an attempt to "gain some political headlines and some political thunder," added Taylor, apparently referring to Knowles, who he ran against in 1998.
Asked after the hearing why he wouldn't advance the bill, Cowdery said: "We had a lot of questions today that have to be answered, and we had 12 amendments hit me last night. ... I'm tired; I want to go to Anchorage."
Rep. Beth Kerttula, a Juneau Democrat who was worked for two years on cruise ship legislation, said that she thinks the Legislature is headed toward a special session on the issue. The cruise ship association issued a news release promising to abide by the environmental standards in the bill, even if it's not passed, but she said some of the wording was ambiguous.
"I think it's time for a statute," Kerttula said.
Kerttula said she thinks Senate President Rick Halford, a Chugiak Republican, really believes in the environmental protection provisions of the bill, not just the $50 head tax on cruise passengers that he would like to add to it. Halford, considered the master of the end game at the Capitol, has been tight-lipped about his plans.
Cruise industry lobbyist Susan Burke told the Senate committee that a head tax probably would violate the U.S. Constitution, although she said the $1 passenger fee currently in the bill might be acceptable as long as the money was spent entirely on projects related to cruise ships.
Knowles, meeting with reporters Sunday, said he's leaving a head tax up to legislators. But he said he's not willing to let cruise ship regulation die because of the head tax debate. The governor said he asked Dow, the industry spokesman, to lobby Cowdery further on the bill, and Dow agreed.
Knowles said using his power to bring the Legislature back into a special session "certainly is one of the alternatives we would have." He didn't say explicitly that he would do it but chuckled when asked about a rumor he would schedule a special session for the Fourth of July. "I haven't figured out which would be the most inconvenient date for everyone."
Bill McAllister can be reached at email@example.com.