JUNEAU (AP) -- Cruise industry officials have agreed in principle to permanent monitoring of treated sewage and wastewater discharges into Alaska waters, along with fees to pay for the testing, Gov. Tony Knowles and the chairman of an industry group said Monday.
Knowles demanded that cruise line executives come to Juneau for a meeting during a speech denouncing the industry two months ago for what he called disgraceful violations of pollution standards in wastewater discharges
Knowles and aides met with the executives behind closed doors for more than two hours Monday morning. Then he spoke to reporters with Dean Brown, executive vice president of Princess Cruises and chairman of the North West CruiseShip Association
Both men declared the meeting a constructive beginning and pledged to continue the Alaska Cruise Ship Initiative, a task force on ship discharges into the state's air and water that includes the cruise lines, state and federal regulators and members of the public.
In addition to that voluntary effort, Brown said the lines support a permanent and mandatory system for checking the millions of gallons of waste the ships pump into Alaska's water each year.
''The cruise ship industry has recognized that there is a need for long-term monitoring of wastewater streams,'' said Brown. ''We also recognize that it's our responsibility to provide the funds for that long-term monitoring program.''
Knowles wouldn't spell out either the monitoring program or the fees, but said he would support a fee set by regulations rather than a head tax on cruise ship passengers like the one proposed in the Alaska Legislature earlier this year. The $50 tax on passengers entering Alaska waters passed the Senate but died in a House committee.
''There will be a required payment for these services, just like we do with other industries,'' Knowles said.
Brown said it was premature to discuss details such as the size of the fee.
''The governor didn't ask for a blank check and we didn't write one,'' Brown said.
The extent of any state monitoring program and the laws needed to enact it will partly depend on whether Congress adopts cruise ship pollution legislation in a lame-duck session this year. Knowles and Brown both urged lawmakers to approve the changes.
The proposal -- now attached to a crucial budget bill -- would subject the discharges of sewage and wastewater from cruise vessels to monitoring and impose criminal penalties for not reporting accidental dumping.
It would also ban cruise ships carrying more than 500 passengers from discharging untreated sewage within the waters of the Inside Passage and prevent the unregulated discharge of treated sewage and wastewater from showers and sinks within a mile of shore.
Cruise ship waste became a big issue last summer when Royal Caribbean Cruise Line and Holland America Line Westours were convicted of polluting the Inside Passage.
Although those cases involved oil-contaminated water and other pollutants, they prompted greater awareness of the wastewater produced by the ships and prompted the Alaska Cruise Ship Initiative, which has conducted air and water tests this summer.
Each of the more than 600,000 cruise ship passengers that visits Alaska generates about 100 gallons of wastewater a day, including 10 gallons of sewage, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates.
Tests of 21 large ships that visited Juneau this summer found that treated sewage often violated federal standards, according to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. Meanwhile, unregulated gray water from sinks, showers and other drains contained surprisingly high levels of fecal coliform bacteria -- a sign of human waste.
Monitoring of smokestack emissions found 34 violations of air opacity, according to the DEC. The state issued 16 citations, while the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued four.
However, separate ambient air quality monitors in downtown Juneau found no violations of health standards between Aug. 13 and Sept. 30.
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