Sunday, March 30, 2008

Days Ashore in Alaska Could Become Shorter

Oops. Somebody goofed. As the Anchorage Daily News has reported, "Starting this year, large cruise ships transiting Alaska waters will be the first in the country required to obtain a permit to discharge their waste in state waters."

The problem? Cruise lines can't apply for the permit because there isn't a shipboard technology available that would enable their ships to comply with the new rule. Thus, as the newspaper says, "An easier solution for the cruise lines is simply not to apply for a permit. The ships could instead discharge their treated wastewater in federal waters. One cruise line, Royal Caribbean, already does that to avoid any possible concerns with its dumping in state waters."

However, not all ships have enough capacity in their tanks to store treated wastewater for their entire itinerary and might need to detour out to the open ocean mid-voyage to dump it. Thus, their passengers may end up spending less time in ports. Despite the fact that cruise lines "have installed new sewage treatment systems on the ships traveling to Alaska to meet state and federal requirements" that's not good enough for Alaska. Those systems treat sewage and the new rules concentrate on trace metals, such as zinc, nickel, and copper, or ammonia. Allowable levels of those contaminants are the ones that cruise ships will have difficulty meeting under the new regulations. "Though the ships have a two-year grace period before they must meet stringent new requirements, it might not be sufficient," said John Binkley, the head of the Alaska Cruise Association.

"State regulators say the stricter standards are required by the cruise ship ballot initiative passed in 2006." We wonder, did the voters of Alaska really understand the initiative? If the goal of Alaska's state environmental regulators is to kill cruise tourism in their state, they are certainly headed in the right direction.

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