A measure that would relax Alaska’s cruise ship pollution law is moving through the state’s House of Representative.
The cruise industry has long fought the discharge regulations that were voted into law by citizens in 2006, arguing that it requires cruise ships to meet standards higher than what land-based facilities must meet.
"We cannot meet the limits that were imposed despite the fact that we invested over $200 million in advanced wastewater treatment systems," John Binkley, president of the Alaska Cruise Association, said last year.
Binkley was referring to cruise lines' compliance with a 2002 Alaska law requiring them to upgrade their water treatment systems.
The new bill, introduced by State Rep. John Harris (R-Valdez), would allow Alaska’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to measure ships' pollution after it is diluted, the way that that shore-based discharges are measured.
"We don't want ships to avoid nonsensical laws by going out to the three-mile line to dump their waste without regulation," said Harris in a statement. "We want them to stay in Alaska waters, use Alaska ports of call, and help us maintain a clean marine environment. ... DEC should have a little discretion to make sure cruise ship discharge rules aren't unreasonably tight."
The DEC has said that most large cruise ships use advanced wastewater treatment systems that often produce discharges of a better quality than municipal sewage treatment plants.
The new discharge restrictions put limits on the levels of metal in the ships’ discharges -- such as copper, nickel and zinc -- and the cruise lines have had difficulty complying with those restrictions.
The DEC gave cruise ships sailing in Alaska a two-year grace period to meet those requirements, but Binkley said the limits on trace metal are so stringent that no ship could meet them.
"It defies common sense," he said. "Even drinking water that we purchase from communities in Southeast Alaska will not meet the discharge limit we are being held to."