The Environmental Protection Agency's report that all six of the major cruise lines operating in Alaska violated state and federal air pollution laws last summer doesn't do much for the industry's credibility.
Since December, the state Department of Environmental Conservation, EPA and industry representatives have met to figure out how the industry can leave the least pollution in Alaska's air and water.
The industry has pledged to go beyond what the laws require. It has described pollution-reducing technologies either at hand or in the works.
That's good. DEC Commissioner Michele Brown has said the state's goal is to work out a voluntary compliance agreement with the industry, and if the industry has the means and the will to cruise at an environmental standard higher than the legal minimum, so much the better.
But good faith takes a hit with smokestack results like last summer's. That's because the cruise industry stressed last fall that Alaska's problem was not pollution but lack of information. John Hansen, president of the NorthWest CruiseShip Association, said then that he believed DEC would feel more confidence in the industry with more information.
The EPA citations suggest that it's not just the lack of information that worries Alaskans. It's pollution. Paper won't cover that problem.
Alaska's position is simple. There's no question cruise lines bring business and livelihoods to the state. Trade-offs include crowds and a higher demand on services in ports of call. But air and water pollution? No deal.
The cruise industry still has the chance to run clean on a voluntary basis, to keep its word and exceed the demands of law. That would be the best solution for everyone, avoiding the burden of more regulation for industry and the cost of more regulation for Alaska.
Clean air and water, not regulation, are the state's goals. But Alaska should make clear that if clean air and water require tougher regulation and enforcement, then the industry can count on it.
Any more citations like the EPA's of this week may cost the cruise lines more than the $27,000 in fines they face. Already the industry has had a small taste of Alaska backlash with the $5 head tax in Juneau and the increasing coolness of that city's welcome. Other ports have been more forthcoming but won't be for long if cruise ships foul the scenery they sell.
And if doubts about environmental safeguards go beyond Alaska's borders, cruise lines could pay in lost bookings.
The industry can do well by doing good if it protects Alaska's environment. Whether by mutual agreement or the force of law, Alaska should make sure of that protection.
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