Cruise Ship Bill Aimed At Reducing Wastewater Regulations Advances In Alaska Senate

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

In a time when cruise ship accidents and safety concerns are at an all-time high, a bill proposed by the Governor of Alaska seeks to cut back regulations for the cruise industry, making it easier for companies to get away with dumping wastewater in the pristine waters of Alaska.

The Parnell Administration has been trying to amend the 2006 cruise ship initiative, which had required tougher standards for wastewater discharges from vessels in Alaskan waters. The administration introduced a bill this week at the governor’s request that instead of improving the industry, would allow a greater number of toxins and chemicals to be released.

Those in favor of Senate Bill 29 (SB29) argue that because wastewater is treated on vessels, the chemical levels emitted by the discharge would still be safe and will not affect marine life. However, those in opposition to the bill argue that the cruise industry – which has already been involved in several incidents regarding lack of safety and environmental standards – is going to have it even easier. The bill is acting as a gateway for cruise companies to abide by lax protocols so they won’t have to worry about the costs or work involved in proper wastewater discharge.

But despite environmental agencies pushing against the bill, SB29 has already advanced in the legislation and is now heading to Senate Finance for further deliberation.

The bill, created by Gov. Sean Parnell, was created in response to a preliminary report by a panel charged with examining cruise ship pollution. According to Parnell’s Environmental Conservation commissioner, the bill would create a more even playing field for cruise lines to abide by the same discharge permits as other vessel operators.

However, those against the bill are not waving the white flag just yet. Critics charge the proposal would diminish safety standards for cruise lines.

Chip Thoma, the President of Responsible Cruising in Alaska, is one of those very disappointed individuals who believe the bill is unnecessary. Thoma argues that the cruise industry requires strict laws to govern it so the wellbeing of passengers, crewmembers and marine life can be preserved.

“In the 10 years that I’ve been involved in this aspect of it, they have gone from unregulated, dumping raw sewage to very, very controlled, we’re having good results from most of the ships,” he said.

As SB29 makes its way through legislature, House Resources began taking up amendments for the House version of the bill. If the bill were to pass, it surely won’t be without a fight. Environmental protection agencies in Alaska will not likely allow the diminished standards for water preservation to pass.