A national review of cruise ship waste-handling practices includes a public hearing in Juneau on Friday.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, responding to a petition from 53 environmental organizations, is assessing whether current regulations affecting cruise ships are sufficient to protect the environment.
Hearings are being held in three cities, starting with Los Angeles on Wednesday. The hearing in Juneau is 7-10 p.m. Friday in Centennial Hall, following a noon-6 p.m. open house with federal regulators. Another hearing is scheduled in Miami on Sept. 12. Representatives of the Coast Guard and other federal agencies also will be involved.
The national review is separate from the Alaska Cruise Ship Initiative, a state-led project focusing on voluntary measures for environmental protection. But information gathered through the initiative will be included in the EPA's assessment report, to be issued this fall.
That report could call for new regulations, said Steve Torok, senior EPA representative in Juneau.
If new regulations are recommended, it's unclear whether they could be in place before the 2001 cruise ship season in Alaska, Torok said.
"Typically, new regulations are not an overnight thing. They do take some time," he said.
John Hansen, president of the Vancouver, B.C.-based North West CruiseShip Association, said he doesn't take for granted that EPA is looking at new regulations.
"I don't get the sense that it's the intent of the exercise by EPA," Hansen said.
In March, a coalition of environmental groups, led by the California-based Bluewater Network, filed a petition with the EPA asking for "assessment of the volumes and characteristics of the spectrum of waste streams from cruise ships, analysis of their potential impact on water quality, the marine environment and human health."
EPA officials agreed to undertake the assessment.
The agency is looking at information on graywater, which is wastewater from baths, sinks, showers, laundries and galleys; blackwater, or toilet waste; oily bilge water; solid waste; and various other wastes, including dry-cleaning and photo-developing chemicals.
The assessment does not include air emissions or tourism impacts.
The petitioning environmentalists estimated a typical cruise ship generates 1 million gallons of graywater on a week-long voyage, along with 210,000 gallons of sewage and 25,000 gallons of bilge water. But industry representatives say they're complying with pollution laws and testing new treatment technologies.
There have been well-publicized violations in the past. The U.S. General Accounting Office documented 87 cases of illegal marine discharges from 1993 to 1998.
Royal Caribbean Cruise Line admitted 21 felony violations, including dumping oily bilge water into Lynn Canal and toxic dry-cleaning chemicals into Gastineau Channel in the mid-'90s. The company was fined $18 million, of which $6.5 million was attributable to violations in Alaska. The company also settled with the state for $3.5 million.
Holland America Line Westours was also fined for dumping oily bilge water in the Inside Passage.