A bipartisan committee in Congress has approved a provision to keep cruises in Glacier Bay at a higher number than a federal judge set.
A House-Senate conference committee on Thursday approved an appropriations bill for the Interior Department that includes the Glacier Bay action. It would freeze the number of cruise ship voyages into the bay at 139 in the peak summer months until a detailed environmental study is done. A federal judge had ruled that those trips should drop to 107 until the National Park Service completes the court-ordered study.
U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, an Alaska Republican, inserted the Glacier Bay amendment in the Senate's version of the bill, which that body approved in mid-July.
The House and Senate haven't set a date to vote on the committee's version of the $19.1 billion spending bill, said Jen Siciliano, spokeswoman for the Senate Appropriations Committee. She said the Glacier Bay provision had bipartisan support from House and Senate members of the conference committee.
Environmental groups have lobbied against it. A lawsuit by environmentalists led to the federal appeals court decision in February to freeze summer cruise ship entries at 107 until an environmental impact statement is done. The park service had increased cruise ship entries in 1997 after doing a less detailed study called an environmental assessment.
The National Parks Conservation Association, one of the plaintiffs that challenged the park service, said Stevens' provision "could be a death sentence for whales and other wildlife in Alaska's Glacier Bay National Park."
The association, in a statement Thursday, said the provision showed "an outrageous disregard for the judicial process, the health of the park, and basic common sense. Decisions about the environmental impact of cruise ships should be made before more ships are allowed to enter the park, not after."
The association cited the death of a pregnant humpback whale, an endangered species, after it was apparently struck by a cruise ship in July. The carcass was found near the entrance to Glacier Bay. Cruise ships also bring a risk of oil spills, air pollution from their smokestacks, and disturbance of wildlife, the group said.
Princess Cruises, which has 52 voyages into Glacier Bay in the summer months, supports Stevens' amendment, said spokesman Tom Dow.
"We believe that cruise ship visitation to Glacier Bay is the best, most environmentally responsible way for the majority of people to visit Glacier Bay," he said from Seattle. "And we agree with the park service and the Department of the Interior that 139 is the right number."
Eric Fry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.