Campaign to Safeguard America’s Waters (C-SAW) has been working to stop the dumping of waste from cruise ships in Alaska, California, Maine, and Hawaii for six years, focusing on both the discharges and the flawed legal system that is supposed to be protecting public waters. In February, C-SAW celebrated a major victory when the Alaska Superior Court upheld certification of the Alaska Cruise Ship Ballot Initiative (CSBI) for the August 2006 primary ballot, despite the NorthWest CruiseShip Association’s unsubstantiated lawsuit that attempted to disqualify signatures and remove the CSBI from the August 2006 primary ballot.
Gershon Cohen, director of C-SAW, and Joe Geldhof, a Juneau, Alaska maritime union attorney, drafted the CSBI, which is sponsored by the Alaskan organization Responsible Cruising in Alaska (RCA). Their effort was launched after discovering that the EPA was inappropriately classifying cruise ship discharges as “incidental,” and therefore exempt from the Clean Water Act. This exemption continues to be applied by the Bush administration despite multiple felony convictions against nearly every major cruise line for dumping untreated sewage, heavy metals, oil, industrial solvents, and other pollutants, and falsifying logbooks submitted to the Coast Guard.
With tremendous help from the Alaska Native community led by Michelle Meyer of Anchorage and Ray Sensmeier of Yakutat, over 27,000 signatures were gathered to place the CSBI on the 2006 ballot. Widespread support for the initiative came from local food gatherers, commercial fishermen, independent tour operators, and municipal leaders in Alaska, as well as several national non-profit organizations, such as Bluewater Network and Oceana.
The CSBI will close statutory loopholes and set new standards for the cruise industry’s performance worldwide. If passed, the CSBI would make it mandatory for every ship to have a discharge permit and prove compliance with Alaska’s Water Quality Standards at the point of discharge for all waste streams. Independent marine engineers aboard every ship in Alaska waters would observe discharge practices, verify logbook entries, and ensure proper maintenance and use of pollution control equipment. A citizen-suit provision of the CSBI would permit the public to sue cruise ship companies for failure to meet permit limits, as well as sue the State for failure to enforce the law. State corporate income tax requirements removed at the industry’s request in 1998 would be reinstated and Alaska would begin receiving the same percentage of cruise ship gambling profits paid by other Alaska gaming industries. A $50 per passenger head-tax would offset the industry’s effects on the infrastructure of Alaskan ports and harbors and cover the cost of the marine engineer observer program. Ship personnel would also be required to disclose to passengers when advice about dockside shops and tours is in fact advertisement, driven by huge kickbacks from selected onshore operators.
The cruise lines will be spending millions to try to defeat the CSBI because the initiative would not only fundamentally change industry practices in Alaska, it would also signal to the rest of the world that we need no longer tolerate the cruise lines’ dictation of rules at local ports of call.
For more information on the CSBI or to find out how you can help C-SAW and Responsible Cruising in Alaska win this fight (and donate much-needed funds to the campaign!), please go to the RCA Web site (www.responsiblecruising.org) or select the C-SAW project Web site at the Earth Island home page, www.earthisland.org.
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