The Senate Finance Committee in the Alaska Legislature will take public testimony on Feb. 7 on a measure that would lower wastewater pollution standards for cruise ships approved in a 2006 citizens initiative.
The discussion on Senate Bill 29 comes on the heels of the Alaska House passing a similar measure on Feb. 4. Both bills, initiated from the office of Gov. Sean Parnell, would allow for release of millions of gallons of cruise ship sewage and wastewater into Alaska waters. The measures would delete a statutory requirement for cruise ships to meet Alaska Water quality Standards at the point of discharge.
Current state law requires that commercial passenger ships in state waters not discharge untreated sewage, treated sewage, graywater or other wastewaters in a manner that violates effluent limits or standards under state or federal law, including Alaska water quality standards governing pollution at the point of discharge, except with specific documentation of those discharges.
SB 29 and HB 80 would allow cruise ships to have mixing zones for discharge of liquid and solid wastes in public water bodies.
Haines resident Gershon Cohen, a co-sponsor of the 2006 cruise ship ballot initiative, said these bills would essentially overturn a fundamental provision of the cruise ship discharge law passed by popular vote.
Legislator Paul Seaton, representing the fishing community of Homer on the Kenai Peninsula, said his main concern is that the bills “remove the goal of lowering the discharge of toxics above the level allowed under the Alaska Standards and substitutes the new standard of mixing zone which they say they cannot measure.”
Representative Les Gara of Anchorage said the cruise ships are like floating cities, with upwards of 3,500 passengers, and can dump 20,000 gallons of waste per ship a day. Both Seaton and Gara were among those in opposition of the House bill.
United Fishermen of Alaska has so far has not commented on either bill, but Julianne Curry, UFA’s new executive director, said the organization’s executive committee is discussing whether to take a stand before the Senate finance committee.