The passage Saturday by the Alaska Legislature of a bill to regulate the discharge of cruise ship waste is either a "huge step" toward protecting the environment or a "wimpy response" to a problem.
As was the case throughout the regular and special sessions of the Legislature when majority Republicans and minority Democrats could not agree on a goal, they could not agree in the end on how to characterize what they had done.
The legislation appears more akin to "huge."
Considering the mistrust, personal agendas, partisanship and stubbornness on public display since January, Alaska residents and cruise industry representatives equally may be surprised that any agreement was reached, much less one that contains the first regulation of graywater discharges ever passed by any government.
At the end of the special session, the Senate Democrats who wanted state regulation the most voted against a bill that goes further than any bill ever had. They should recall that Rome wasn't built in a day or in five months, which is about how long this bill kicked around the halls of the Capitol.
Senate President Rick Halford did not get the $50 head tax he wanted or even the $10 tax for which he gladly would have settled. But he voted for the regulatory measure that passed and said he will be back next year to push for the tax.
Gov. Tony Knowles did not press for a head tax, which he almost certainly favors, because he wanted environmental controls more than he wanted revenue. Still, like recalcitrant horses, his critics roasted Knowles for daring to lead them to legislative graywater and forcing them to drink.
At this time last year, neither federal nor state law could prevent the sea-going hotels from discharging anything short of raw sewage pretty much as they pleased. Now federal and state laws address content and location of discharges.
These are important, substantive steps much more than a "wimpy response."
Less than 48 hours after passage of the bill, the cruise industry's No. 1 trade association announced that beginning July 1, ships run by its member lines, including several that visit Alaska, must meet or exceed recycling and waste discharge guidelines set by the International Council of Cruise Lines. If they fail to comply, the companies face losing membership in the powerful industry lobbying group.
"Regrettably, there have been violations of environmental laws involving cruise lines in the past few years," said ICCL President Michael Crye. "These incidents have served as a wake-up call."
The ICCL standards will apply throughout the world. If members of the Legislature begin to receive accolades for serving as a catalyst for environmental stewardship on a global scale, we're willing to forget about their recent reluctance to act. In the end, however grudgingly, they did the right thing.
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