Cruise ships willing to test emmissions -- within limits

Posted: Wednesday, March 01, 2000

JUNEAU (AP) -- The cruise ship industry says it's willing to test its air emissions and wastewater discharges and turn the results over to the state -- as long as the information isn't used to penalize cruise lines.

Also, the names of ships found to be breaking the law would be withheld from the public, said Mike Conway, a director at the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

Lawyers call the arrangement an ''enforcement shield,'' and it's one of the proposals being considered in discussions between the state and the cruise lines.

High-profile dumping admissions and accusations last year prompted the state to step up its scrutiny of the ships that bring more than half a million passengers to Alaska waters each year.

The voluntary actions were announced in a statement by the North West CruiseShip Association, a Vancouver trade group representing eight cruise lines operating in Alaska.

But the idea of protecting the industry from enforcement doesn't sit well with some Southeast Alaska residents who see the foreign-flagged ships as polluters that get off too easily already.

''Our problems aren't being solved by voluntary compliance. We know we have an air-quality problem in Juneau. I think it's time for mandatory regulation,'' said Kim Metcalfe-Helmar, president of Juneau's Downtown Neighborhood Association. ''If the state can't do the job, then EPA should step in.''

But Juneau resident Robert Reges, a former assistant attorney general, said enforcement shields are common between business and government. Reges sits on an air-quality group that's advising the state on how to address cruise ship pollution.

He said shielding the industry from fines is a valid approach for winning concessions in other areas, such as industry-paid testing of the air throughout the region. That type of research is not being done and it's expensive, Reges said.

The state could also use the data as a starting point for its own investigations.

Neither the DEC nor the federal Environmental Protection Agency monitor air or water discharges from cruise ships.

DEC Commissioner Michele Brown convened a December meeting in Juneau of industry, government and community representatives to discuss ways to reduce cruise ship impacts on Alaska's water and air quality. Another meeting was held in mid-February.

While the discussions are still ongoing, and another meeting is scheduled for April, the industry said in a statement Friday that it's committed to going well beyond what is required by existing law. The cruise ship association said it's developing new ways to treat wastewater, expanding the use of incinerators to dispose of food waste, instead of grinding and pumping it out, and looking into using cleaner-burning diesel fuels.

''We want our operations to leave the smallest footprint possible on the environment,'' said John Hansen, president of the North West CruiseShip Association.

Two vessels owned by Celebrity Cruises will be outfitted with a new type of ''gray water'' treatment equipment before they reach Alaska this summer, said Nancy Wheatley, the chief environmental officer for Royal Caribbean, which owns Celebrity. Gray water comes from sink and show drains and contains soap, detergents and other cleaning products. It requires no treatment under the law.

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