Good rules can make tolerable neighbors

My turn

Posted: Friday, June 01, 2001

The Northwest Cruise Ship Association's recent full-page ads in the Juneau Empire made claims that they are "good corporate partners" and their members are "good corporate neighbors" to Alaskans. Where is the evidence to support these outrageous claims?

Most folks in Juneau remember the large penalty assessed Royal Caribbean for re-routing pipes to dump untreated wastewater while cruising the Inside Passage. Does a good corporate neighbor dump raw, untreated sewage into our waters? If my neighbor decided to re-rout his toilet pipe to drain into my yard, I would call them a lot of things; good neighbor is not one of them. Royal Caribbean was not alone in violating water quality standards. Of the 80 water-quality tests performed, only one complied with existing state and federal standards. Just this spring two of the first visiting ships violated pollution regulations, one discharging fecal coliform counts 3,500 times the acceptable federal level.

The cry that too much regulation will force these floating hotels elsewhere is unfounded as well. The May 17 issue of The Economist points out that Alaska cruises "now account(s) for $1 billion of the industry's $9 billion global revenue." That's $1,000,000,000 in income that cruise lines earn without paying any state income tax. The port and facility fees they pay simply buy services that they need; those fees contribute nothing to the general support of government.

Many Alaskans look to tourism to fill the hole in the state budget that declining oil production is leaving. The oil industry made similar claims of abandoning Alaska in the 1970s and '80s when their taxes were increased, and they are still here. However, if the oil industry earned a billion dollars in net income in Alaska, they would pay the state $94 million in income taxes, plus severance taxes and royalties far exceeding that amount. In all, they would pay about $250 million of that billion to the state. One former Alaska statesman called their recurrent threats to leave "a string of broken promises." It will take much more than a $25 or $50 per passenger fee to force the cruise industry to forego one-ninth of their global revenue.

There is one area where Alaskans can agree with the NWCA, and that is to support legislation that monitors wastewater discharge. Alaskans deserve the strongest monitoring and enforcement legislation possible, not the watered down version the industry supports. The bill must grant state agencies monitoring and enforcement capabilities. It is evident that voluntary compliance is a myth. The state agency, with regulatory authority, must be able to monitor all waste discharges from all pipes, and not just those indicated by the company as discharge pipes. Any waste discharged from a cruise ship must meet the Alaska Water Quality Standards at it leave the ship.

Robert Frost wrote, "Good fences make good neighbors." In the case of the NWCA, strong regulations may make for tolerable neighbors.

Malone of Juneau has returned home on summer break from Vermont Law School.

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