Compromise reached on cruise legislation

Posted: Wednesday, May 02, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- A compromise cruise ship pollution bill passed the House Tuesday night, moving Alaska a step closer to adopting the strictest rules in the country for the industry.

Gov. Tony Knowles' spokesman, Bob King, said the legislation meets the governor's requirements that the state have authority to set and enforce standards for industry discharges and independently monitor them.

''It will be comprehensive,'' King said. ''It will include air quality, solid waste.''

''This is the strongest bill that any state has put forward,'' said Rep. Eldon Mulder, R-Anchorage. House Bill 260 changed dramatically from when Mulder introduced it last week.

Commissioner Michele Brown of the Department of Environmental Conservation said Mulder's original bill fell far short of the administration's goals. It ceded the state's authority to set water quality standards to the federal government, and it would not have provided for independent inspection and monitoring, instead calling for the industry to do its own testing and reporting on its discharges, she said.

In addition, Brown said, the scope of testing was limited mostly to indicators of sewage, ignoring many other possible pollutants.

Mulder, however, said the governor's approach went too far, calling for permits that could be revoked if ships violated the law. He called that the ''death penalty.''

After Mulder's bill came out late last week, Knowles fired off letters to industry executives demanding that they halt the bill's progress. The governor has said a cruise ship bill is ''must-have'' legislation. Many in the capital thought he might have called a special session if he didn't get a bill he liked.

DEC Commissioner Brown said administration and industry officials negotiated the compromise over three days.

The new version of the bill doesn't require the industry to obtain permits, but it will require the ships to register, and in doing so they will sign a document agreeing to comply with the state standards.

''We're not calling it a permit, but it accomplishes the same thing,'' Brown said.

The bill also gives DEC authority to regulate any pollutants the agency believes is necessary, allows for independent monitoring of industry tests and allows DEC to board the ships. It contains the same $1 per person fee requirements as in the original bill, but deletes a sunset date on those fees.

The bill also contains ''right-to-know'' language that was in legislation sponsored by Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau. Her bill called for the industry to file reports on air emissions, water discharges and solid waste handling.

Kerttula was happy with the new measure.

''I'm not giving up a thing, and neither is the governor,'' Kerttula said.

Mulder said the compromise bill would retain some of the ''results-oriented'' standards in his bill, which set out measurements the industry was to meet for some pollutants, rather than leaving that to state regulators.

But Mulder said ''the governor is probably the big winner in this compromise.''

Tom Dow of Princess Cruises, who helped negotiate the deal for North West CruiseShip Association, said he's pleased with the bill. Some ships coming to Alaska this year are already equipped with new technology that will help them operate more cleanly, he said.

Publicity about the issue was ''extremely'' important in forcing the issue, Dow said.

''We're in a business where our passengers are here on vacation. They want to enjoy what they're doing and feel good about it,'' Dow said. ''We have to have communities that feel good about them coming.''

Along with front-page news stories in recent days, a group supporting tighter regulation of the industry met the first big cruise ship of the season here Tuesday.

The group handed out fliers telling passengers that ''unacceptable levels'' of pollution were found in ships' discharges last year. Nearly all the ships tested in a pilot program last year violated state and federal water quality standards.

The bill now goes to the Senate, where President Rick Halford, R-Chugiak, has said he supports the governor's bill. The question will be whether senators try to add a head tax to the bill.

Last year the Senate approved a $50 head tax, and Halford indicated Tuesday night he is still interested in the idea.

The bill that passed the House is written to make it difficult to do that. The bill's detailed title specifies the approximately $1 per passenger fee to be paid. Increasing that would require a title change, which would require a two-thirds vote.



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