JUNEAU (AP) -- A revised cruise ship pollution bill cleared its first Senate committee Thursday afternoon.
The Senate Transportation Committee passed the bill regulating the giant ships' wastewater, solid waste and air emissions after exempting small ships carrying fewer than 250 passengers from some of its requirements.
The smaller vessels would still have to comply with requirements that they sample their wastewater and file reports on it. But they wouldn't have to clean the wastewater to the same standard required of the bigger ships.
Randy Ray of the United States Cruise Ship Association, which represents the smaller vessels, said the technology big ships use is not yet available for smaller ships.
Gov. Tony Knowles called legislators back to Juneau for a special session on cruise ship legislation because the bill stalled in the Senate after passing the House during the regular session that ended last month.
The cruise ship industry supports the bill, although industry representatives fear legislators may try to add a head tax to it, which they oppose.
Transportation Committee Chairman John Cowdery had been holding on to the bill during the regular session because he said he had too many questions and not enough time to get them answered. One of his concerns was that small boats would be put out of business.
Cowdery, R-Anchorage, had also complained that the cruise industry was being asked to meet a higher standard than some coastal communities, fishing boats and other vessels.
''It seemed like we were singling out one industry because it was politically correct to get them,'' Cowdery said.
Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Michele Brown said communities' wastewater treatment standards are set through a lengthy permitting process that the cruise ship did not want to be subject to. Also, she said, the cruise ships were a focus because of the sheer volume of sewage and other wastewater coming from them.
''These ships generate a lot more waste because of their size than a fishing vessel, even a large fishing vessel,'' Brown said.
Mike Harcourt, a former British Columbia premier, now with Oceans Blue Foundation, thanked legislators for taking up the issue, saying it will lead the way for other regions the ships visit.
''We welcome in British Columbia the pioneering work you're doing,'' Harcourt said.
But John Palmes, a retired habitat biologist from Juneau, said Alaska has more pressing issues to tend to than regulating cruise ship sewage, which he said has not been shown to harm the environment and may be beneficial.
''Sewage is just food that's been digested,'' Palmes said.
Brown said she still has concerns about some provisions in the new bill. She's not sure a new sampling provision in the bill, which calls for averaging collected samples, works as well as what was called for in the earlier version of the bill.
She also questioned why the bill exempted small cruise ships, but not state ferries that have accommodations for fewer than 250 people.
Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, tried to offer amendments to the bill, but Sen. Jerry Ward, R-Anchorage cut him off by calling for the committee to adjourn.
Cowdery was happy to do so.
''If there's nothing more, I'm glad to get rid of this,'' Cowdery said.
A visibly angry Elton did not want to talk about what he had proposed changing.
The measure is next scheduled to go to the Senate Resources, Finance and Rules Committees, then the Senate floor. Any changes in the bill will have to go back to the House for concurrence.
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