The North West CruiseShip Association, representing nine cruise lines that call at Alaska ports, this week agreed with the state on five basic points:
--Support pending federal legislation to regulate wastewater discharges.
--Make abiding by terms of that legislation mandatory for association members whether it passes or not.
--Agree in principle to long-term state monitoring and verification to make sure ships meet or exceed pollution standards.
--Agree to pay for such a program.
--Recognize that cruise lines have a responsibility to protect the air and waters of Alaska.
Michele Brown, commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, said Gov. Tony Knowles made clear at a closed meeting between state and industry officials that a voluntary program won't suffice and that the state will offer no incentives for basic cleanliness.
Ms. Brown also said the association recognizes that Alaska is different. Cruise lines have resisted state-by-state regulation. But cruising here puts floating cities in Alaska waters, the Inside Passage, for most of their trips. Whatever they discharge they discharge into Alaska's air and water. That's why the state reserves the right to its own authority to set standards and monitor for them.
''I think we've taken a major step in having them agree to a state program,'' Ms. Brown said.
But Dean Brown, an executive with Princess Cruises and chairman of the cruise ship association, said there's a difference of opinion on just what a state program means. He pointed out that the state may mean regulation by state authority, while the association could mean simply a program unique to Alaska. That hasn't been settled yet.
''I want to develop a monitoring program based on our best judgment, hire professional staff to do it,'' the DEC's Ms. Brown said.
''I don't want to have them have the final veto.''
That's the right course.
Since the first meeting of the Alaska Cruise Ship Initiative in December 1999, the industry has made real progress in satisfying Alaska's demand for clean air and water.
Oil-spill response equipment has been positioned in Southeast Alaska. The industry has paid for last summer's sampling and lab work for air and wastewater quality tests.
Princess Cruises will use shoreside power, and Royal Caribbean will use gas turbine engines to prevent air opacity violations. Voluntary compliance with federal legislation will mean no wastewater discharge in ports or within a mile of shore, among other restrictions.
Even more striking is what Mr. Brown called the ''paradigm shift'' that Alaska has caused by its insistence on graywater (sink and shower waste) as well as blackwater (sewage) treatment. He pointed out that two ships Princess is having built in Japan will have to accommodate marine sanitation devices still in development. ''We don't know if those ships will ever sail in Alaska waters,'' Mr. Brown said. Yet its Alaska's demand for the cleanest possible discharges that is driving changes for the cruise ship industry, changes that may mean cleaner waters far beyond our own.
All this is good news. But Alaska shouldn't relax its watch.
Two principles should rule here.
First, standards and monitoring must be to the state's satisfaction, not just the industry's. Alaska should have the final word on the rules in Alaska waters.
Second, as Ms. Brown has said before, it's not the state's purpose to set up a bureaucracy or rules for the sake of rules. The goals are clean air and clean water. If those require state regulations, so be it. If federal regulations or agreements with industry will achieve the goals, good enough. Ms. Brown said the state doesn't aim to micromanage environmental engineering aboard ship but does intend to be sure what's discharged doesn't harm the environment.
Mr. Brown and Ms. Brown said Gov. Knowles pressed industry leaders hard at the meeting. Good. That's his job. Field testing and the shakedown of new technologies requires some flexibility in deadlines, and different cruise lines may be able to employ different methods to meet state requirements. Still, the governor should keep pressing.
Ms. Brown said it's in the cruise ship industry's interest to keep Alaska clean and beautiful. It makes no sense for cruise lines to wear out their welcome or spoil what they sell. It does make sense for Alaska to be a world-class leader in environmental protection.
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