ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has launched a national review of the cruise ship industry in response to a petition by 54 environmental organizations.
The federal agency will look for loopholes and exemptions in existing laws to determine whether tighter rules are warranted to reduce cruise ship pollution.
The EPA offices in Alaska, California and Florida are spearheading the review because the three states host a large number of cruise ships. Public hearings will be held within the next few months, followed by a set of recommendations, according to a leaked EPA memo.
''Rapid response to this petition is necessary, both because of the importance of the issue, and because extensive state and regional efforts to address cruise line pollution are proceeding at a fast pace, and these must be engaged to provide an effective national response,'' the March 31 memo states.
Juneau EPA official Steve Torok confirmed the agency's effort.
''We'll be looking at every point in the petition,'' Torok said.
In their request to the EPA, the environmental groups, headed by the San Francisco-based Bluewater Network, asked the agency to consider how cruise ships dispose of their sink and shower waste, known as ''gray water,'' as well as sewage, hazardous wastes and oily bilge water. They also want the EPA to look at the quantity and content of the discharges and decide if new laws and rules are needed to manage the large volume of waste.
Citing cruise line reports available to the public, the environmental groups say the typical cruise ship generates about 1 million gallons of gray water on a weeklong voyage, about 210,000 gallons of sewage, some 25,000 gallons of oily bilge water and various amounts of photo chemicals, dry cleaning fluids, used paints, batteries and expired chemicals.
The industry says it complies with or goes beyond pollution laws. Before discharge, sewage is treated and oil is removed from bilge water, while hazardous substances are properly disposed of on land, the industry says.
''Cruise ships are point sources of enormous volumes of waste, which can have significant impacts on the marine environment and public health. Coupled with the cruise industry's proven record of violating pollution laws, it is clear we need more rigorous oversight of all cruise ship waste stream discharges,'' wrote Bluewater's Kira Schmidt in her request to EPA.
A February report by the General Accounting Office found that from 1993 to 1998, cruise ships were involved in 87 confirmed cases of illegal discharges of oil, garbage and hazardous wastes into U.S. waters. In Alaska, Royal Caribbean Cruise Line Ltd. and Holland America Line Westours Inc., were convicted of illegally polluting the Inside Passage. Royal Caribbean was fined $6.5 million. Holland America paid $1 million in fines and $1 million in restitution.
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