The Campaign to Safeguard America’s Waters, a project of Earth Island Institute, and Friends of the Earth took steps today to rein in the continued dumping of pollution from cruise ships into Alaskan waters. The groups, represented by Earthjustice, filed a challenge in state superior court to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation’s decision to grant the permit that authorizes cruise ships to continue dumping pollutants without meeting the standards required by law.
Every summer about one million visitors come to Alaska on cruise ships. These boats dump wastewater into Alaskan coastal waters, leaving partially-treated sewage, heavy metals and chemical pollutants in their wakes. In 2006, Alaskans voted a ballot measure into law requiring cruise ships to meet Alaska’s water quality standards when they discharge this wastewater.
The Alaska Legislature weakened the voter-passed law in 2009, giving cruise ships operating in Alaskan waters several more years until they are required to comply with water quality standards but requiring the ships to install the best available treatment technologies in the interim. The 2010 permit issued by the Department of Environmental Conservation provided for the time extension, but failed to require ships to use the best available treatment technologies now, as required by the statute. Some wastewater treatment systems allowed under the 2010 permit produce more than ten times the pollution the cleanest ships currently release.
“Some ships are successfully using cleaner technologies and the law requires every ship to match that performance until all state water quality standards are met,” said Gershon Cohen, Project Director of Campaign to Safeguard America’s Waters. “The State’s own records prove the performance and availability of the better systems, and agency staff have confirmed there is room to put them on the remaining ships.”
“Alaska’s coastal waters are our economic lifeblood,” said Earthjustice attorney Kate Glover. “People come from all over the world to see the whales, porpoise and salmon that thrive in our coastal waters. It’s not right to let some cruise ships threaten our fisheries and tourism industries when there’s a proven technology that can reduce the level of pollution.”
“This case highlights that Alaska must continue to lead the charge to push the cruise ship industry toward employing the best wastewater treatment technologies. Alaska’s standards have been improving cruise ship performance in all U.S. waters and worldwide,” said Marcie Keever, Oceans & Vessels Campaign Director at Friends of the Earth.