Compromise reached on cruise legislation

Posted: Wednesday, May 02, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- The cruise ship industry, the governor and key legislators have reached a compromise on a bill to regulate cruise industry pollution. A vote on the bill was expected on the House floor Tuesday night.

Gov. Tony Knowles' spokesman, Bob King, said the legislation would meet the governor's concerns 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.''

Knowles was angered last week when the cruise industry backed a bill by Rep. Eldon Mulder, R-Anchorage, that Knowles administration officials said fell far short of their goals.

Mulder's initial bill would have required cruise ships to meet federal standards for wastewater discharges, monitor those discharges and file reports on them. It assessed a fee of about $1 per passenger on the ships, and the fee was to expire in 2004.

Commissioner Michele Brown of the Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner said Mulder's original bill would have ceded the state's authority to set water quality standards to the federal government. And she said 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.

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 the 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 compromise bill doesn't require the industry to obtain permits, King said, but it will require them to register, and in doing so they will sign a document agreeing to comply with the state standards.

The bill will also contain ''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.''

Cruise industry officials could not immediately be reached for comment on the bill.

Kerttula thinks bad publicity helped bring the industry to the table.

IN addition, she said, ''some of them truly have a commitment and want to do the right thing.''

In addition to 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 of the ships tested in a pilot program last year violated state and federal water quality standards.

The fliers asked passengers to visit Mulder's office and urge him to hold the industry to high standards.

Mulder's office set up a coffee decanter and paper cups and put a sign on the door welcoming the ship's passengers, but his staff said no one from the ship came in.

If the bill passes the House, it's expected to have support in the Senate, where President Rick Halford has sponsored a bill similar to Kerttula's and has said he supports the governor's approach.

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