Campaign to Safeguard America’s Waters

Earth Island News

Cruise ship initiative sets sail
C-SAW has been charting a course towards a pollution-free cruise future since 1999, leading the effort towards passage of the only federal rule restricting cruise ship pollution in 2000, the first state statute (in Alaska) in 2001, and working with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation in 2002 to draft the nation’s first monitoring and reporting regulations for the industry. C-SAW also assisted the people of Molokai, Hawai’i, in their successful effort to turn back the industry’s invasion of their island in 2003, and worked to help pass the first cruise pollution laws in California and Maine in 2004.

Although it was a major step forward at the time, the 2001 Alaska law harbors several significant loopholes thanks to an 11th-hour industry lobbying effort. To plug those statutory leaks, C-SAW, Bluewater Network, and the Alaska-based NGO Responsible Cruising in Alaska launched a statewide initiative drive in 2003. The signature-gathering effort, assisted greatly by the State’s Native community, was successfully completed in October 2004. Alaska’s Lt. Governor Loren Leman recently certified the Cruise Ship Ballot Initiative (CSBI) for placement on the August 2006 general ballot.

cruise ship head on

The CSBI will set a national precedent by requiring cruise ships with more than 250 berths to have wastewater discharge permits for all wastestreams and meet all state water quality standards at the point of discharge. The Clean Water Act typically requires every major discharger of polluted wastewater to obtain such permits. However, foreign-flagged cruise ships, which transport thousands of passengers and crew and generate millions of gallons of contaminated wastewater, have hidden for over 20 years behind a federal permitting exemption intended for vessels with a handful of crewmembers. Cruise ship lobbyists successfully extended that exemption to circumvent Alaska’s state-based permitting program, despite the fact that virtually every major cruise line has been convicted of multiple felonies for dumping and falsifying pollution discharge records in the last decade.

In addition to the new wastewater permit requirements, the initiative will set a fee of four dollars per passenger to fund independent licensed marine engineers on every ship to observe wastewater treatment practices, inspect pollution control equipment, sample ship discharges, and monitor shipboard health and sanitation practices. A citizen’s suit provision in the CSBI will give Alaskans the power to sue the industry for failure to meet state standards, as well as sue the state for failure to enforce pollution rules.

The CSBI will establish a statewide excise tax of $46 per passenger (about $50 million each tourist season), the proceeds to be shared between ports of call, industry-affected communities that are not ports of call, and the state. Proposals to tax the industry and more comprehensively regulate its pollution have enjoyed broad support in recent years, but these efforts have been blocked by members of the Alaska Legislature who receive significant campaign donations from the industry. The CSBI will also reinstate the industry’s corporate income tax, repealed by the State Legislature in 1998, and require cruise ships to give 33 percent of their gambling profits to Alaska (the same percentage other gaming operators pay for taxes and charitable purposes).

Industry fear-mongering has already begun, with threats of a pullout and declining passenger numbers. But such threats are baseless: Alaska represents nearly 10 percent of the industry’s world-wide revenue and with the political turmoil in the Middle East, and SARS and avian flu outbreaks in Southeast Asia, more and more cruise passengers (75 percent of whom are Americans) want “safe,” i.e., Coast-Guard-protected vacations. Tourism has shifted heavily to Alaska and Hawai’i in recent years.

According to C-SAW Director Gershon Cohen, “The industry is literally making billions of dollars in profits every year. When the CSBI passes, Alaskans will get a fair monetary return from the industry’s activities, and be able to keep Alaska’s waters clean to support the state’s fisheries resources as well as its independent travel industry.”

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