More help than required

Posted: Wednesday, May 09, 2001

Sen. John Cowdery has applied flawed logic to proposed cruise ship regulations that are acceptable to the governor, to an overwhelming majority of the House membership, to a likely majority of the Senate membership and to the cruise ship industry.

As a result, all of the members of the Legislature will return to the Capitol on May 21 for a special session to give further consideration to a bill to set state standards for cruise ship discharges.

If Cowdery, his GOP colleagues and the cruise ship industry were being steamrolled by a too-powerful Democratic governor, the chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee might be right to assume the role of conscience-driven juror holding out against all the other jurors who heard the same evidence and reached a different conclusion.

But with both houses of the Alaska Legislature controlled by the Republican Party, no one should mistake Gov. Tony Knowles as a steamroller.

With its documented record of pollution and public assertions that it is willing to be held to a higher legal standard, neither is the cruise ship industry casting itself as a victim in need of Cowdery's assistance.

The most twisted logic Cowdery and a couple of his colleagues are applying involves a refusal to help protect Alaska's environment where their influence can be exerted because the environment is not being protected to their satisfaction in areas where they have little influence. Specifically, Cowdery is reluctant to hold the cruise ship industry to a higher legal standard because some municipalities, Juneau in particular, have failed to clean up their own marine discharges.

The point the senator from Anchorage is missing is that municipal pollution is not OK - not to the city of Juneau, not to its residents, not to the rest of the state and certainly not to the federal government, which has levied fines against Juneau and which prosecuted the superintendent of Juneau's Mendenhall wastewater treatment plant.

Did the city claim that it should be allowed to exceed federal pollution standards because the cruise industry has done so? Of course not. It's an absurd defense. And, in fact, the city is working to clean up its problems. Construction on a sewer extension crossing the channel to North Douglas' Bonnie Brae subdivision is going on right now.

The Northwest CruiseShip Association said it was "pleased" to accept the provisions of the House version of the cruise ship bill, which it described as a "fair agreement that establishes rigorous standards and procedures, yet gives us the certainty we need to operate in Alaska waters." That certainty is important for any industry planning for its future.

As chairman of the committee where the Senate version of the bill resided, Cowdery refused to move it.

If the industry, House and governor accepted these proposed state regulations, Cowdery should have let the Senate debate the issue and vote. Now, because of his approach, both chambers will have to do it all over again.

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