Campaign to Safeguard America’s Waters

Earth Island News


While mega-cruise ships may conjure up images of romance and five-star service, they also pollute our water and air, evade taxes, pay substandard wages, and lobby around the democratic process. C-SAW continues its efforts to drag this billion-dollar polluter into the 21st century.

C-SAW (with the support of Bluewater Network) recently launched a statewide initiative process in Alaska to plug the leaks in the State’s 2001 cruise ship law. Although Alaska’s rules are the best in the country, they remain far from adequate. Many wastestreams and pollutants go unregulated, industry monitoring remains minimal, violations bring meaningless penalties, and the industry refuses to pay taxes to municipalities to offset the impacts of cruise ships’ visits.

Let the people decide

The C-SAW Cruise Ship Ballot Initiative (CSBI), co-authored with the Juneau-based group Responsible Cruising in Alaska (RCA), will establish permits on all discharges and require that every wastestream meet the Alaska Water Quality Standards, enforcing the same rules applied to every other discharger into Alaska waters. The CSBI will require that licensed marine engineers are always on board to inspect pollution control equipment, test discharges, and stop the possible falsification of the logbooks required by the Coast Guard.

The CSBI will also establish a statewide “head” tax ($50/passenger) to be distributed to affected communities. Juneau is the only city in Alaska with enough clout to charge a head tax ($5/passenger) at this time, even though the industry routinely pays such taxes in other ports around the world. Princess Cruises recently announced it will abandon the port of Seward in favor of nearby Whittier next season, following Whittier’s rescindment of a $1 head tax and minimal ship service fee. Princess’ decision abruptly ended an eight-year relationship with Seward merchants, who had invested millions of dollars to serve the industry. Any head tax must be applied statewide, since the industry regularly pits towns against each other by pulling out of communities that try to collect.

Other provisions in the CSBI will tax the industry’s gambling profits and income at the same rates paid by other gambling and corporate entities in Alaska.

Who is running Alaska?

We fully expected a concerted effort by the cruise industry to sink the CSBI, which promises an annual economic windfall to the State of $50-100 million and will bring obvious environmental benefits for the public and Alaska’s fishing and tourism economies. Unfortunately, the Murkowski administration has aided and abetted the industry by making it nearly impossible for C-SAW to get the CSBI on the ballot. C-SAW and RCA submitted the CSBI petition to the Alaska Department of Law in April. The State “evaluated” the petition without reaching a decision for nearly four months. Eventually, the State rejected the petition because the taxing provision could have been construed to apply to foreign-flagged airplanes as well as foreign-flagged cruise ships, and the gambling tax could theoretically have been imposed on a Friday night poker game in Nome. Without State certification that the CSBI is consistent with the State Constitution, supporters are unable to begin the signature drive to place the initiative on the ballot.

Undaunted, C-SAW and RCA clarified the goals of the petition and resubmitted. But more than another month has gone by without certification; litigation may be necessary to force the issue. If these delays keep the CSBI off the November 2004 ballot, C-SAW and RCA fully intend to put the measure to a vote in 2006. Meanwhile, C-SAW is working with a broad coalition of groups around the country to sponsor a federal law that would eliminate the need for state-by-state remedies.

It is clear to everyone, especially the cruise industry, that Alaskans will eventually vote this initiative into law. We suspect the industry’s real fear is not simply that the Alaska CSBI will pass overwhelmingly; rather, if our grassroots-based effort is successful here, who will beat them next?

Gershon Cohen, Ph.D. is director of Campaign to Safeguard America’s Waters.
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