Cruise ship reporting bill passes its first committee

Posted: Friday, April 20, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- A bill requiring cruise ships to file reports on their wastewater discharges moved out of its first committee Thursday after being amended to make it tough for a head tax or stricter rules to be tacked on later.

The bill by Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, requires cruise ships to test their wastewater discharges and report the results to the state. Beginning in 2003, it would limit the pollution levels permitted in gray water, the wastewater that comes from sinks and showers.

Kerttula, who saw the revised version of her bill just minutes before the House Transportation Committee hearing began Thursday, said it appears those gray water limits are consistent with provisions in a federal law passed late last year.

John Hansen, president of the North West CruiseShip Association, spoke in support of the bill. He told the committee the bill meets a number of criteria the association supports, including clearly defined standards and a time frame for meeting them.

He indicated after the meeting the measure would also help the industry's image.

''We have had some reporting nationally and internationally that kind of continues to go on about the industry in Alaska and how we're not responding, and we think it's time to put that behind us,'' Hansen said.

Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Michele Brown said she supports what she sees as a ''right-to-know'' bill, but it's not a replacement for Gov. Tony Knowles' bill that would require the industry to meet Alaska's air, water quality and solid waste handling standards, get permits and submit to state monitoring.

''It's not even close,'' Brown said. ''What they really did was codify some of the provisions of federal law into state law, but they don't go over and above, which is what the governor's bill did.''

''We're basically left with a 'trust us' voluntary compliance approach,'' Brown said.

The exception, she said, is that after three years if a cruise ship reports it's not meeting the standards, it can be penalized.

''They may have been attempting to reach some of the goals the governor had,'' Brown said.

Transportation Committee Chairman Vic Kohring, R-Wasilla, an industry supporter who has said he opposes burdening the cruise ships with regulations, was reluctant to pass the bill, but said he was trying to be fair to all sides.

He said he was satisfied with changes in a substitute bill the committee adopted instead of Kerttula's original measure. The new version, which was written in consultation with the industry, takes out a requirement that the industry monitor and report air emissions.

The committee substitute also changes the bill's title to detail very clearly what the measure does. That was done intentionally because a more general title would make it easier to slip new provisions into the bill, Kohring said.

Kohring said he's heard that some senators are ''just chomping at the bit'' to have a cruise ship bill pass the House, so they can add a head tax to it in the Senate. A cruise ship reporting bill with a $50 head tax passed the Senate last year and died in the House, and Sen. Drue Pearce, R-Anchorage, has said she'd be willing to add a tax to a cruise ship bill if it came her way this year.

''I'm trying to put forth an effort here that would preclude any taxes from being added to this legislation,'' Kohring said.

The title change doesn't entirely prevent a major overhaul of the bill. If members of the House wanted to add taxes or more stringent regulations, they could do so as easily as passing any other amendment -- with a majority vote.

But once a House bill goes to the Senate, it would require a two-thirds majority to change the title, according to the Legislature's rules.

The bill appears to be moving quickly. It is scheduled for a hearing Friday in the House Resources Committee.

Brown said she believes the bill is an attempt to quiet demands that the governor's more stringent bill get a vote this session.

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