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November 19: Juneau Empire on state and cruise ship industry progress:

Posted: Monday, November 20, 2000

After years of contentiousness and mistrust, it is important to acknowledge the positive steps that appear to have come out of Monday's meeting between Gov. Tony Knowles and representatives of the cruise ship industry.

The governor was right to demand the meeting. He has been more patient than many Southeast citizens as one water sample after another indicated the cruise industry's ''we care'' position was more public relations spin than substantive clean-up action. He got the attention of cruise executives in September when he called the industry's recent record ''disgraceful.''

The cruise company officials did not have to come to Juneau just because Knowles demanded they do so. They could have ignored him, respectfully declined or even accused him of grandstanding. The contentiousness could have continued.

Instead, they came to the capital city to hear Knowles' express his concerns -- firmly but without scolding -- on behalf of all Alaskans. When it was their turn, they made their best case for their best efforts toward environmental responsibility.

When the group emerged from its private two-and-a-half-hour meeting, we learned that the cruise industry committed to continue paying for the monitoring and inspection of the discharges from its ships.

It also agreed to work for passage of federal cruise ship legislation that will allow the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to set a new treatment standard for graywater discharges in Alaska. The cruise executives said their companies will abide by the proposed guidelines even if the lame duck Congress fails to pass them before dissolving.

To cynics and skeptics, this could be seen as just the latest PR effort. We probably have not seen the last laboratory test results informing us that cruise ships are not meeting discharge requirements. The industry says it is working to make costly technological upgrades but that the anticipated results may not be realized for another two- to three years.

We hope the cruise executives did not come to Juneau just to buy time. We expect the retrofits to be taking place on the cruise fleets right now. We expect improvements in the quality of discharges next season.

Southeast residents and sealife deserve the progress and improvements the industry is promising.

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