Alaskans concerned about the health and economic impacts of toxic cruise ship pollution are welcoming a ruling issued by the Alaska Superior Court this week. The court held the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation’s 2010 cruise ship wastewater discharge permit failed to demonstrate a correct interpretation of the law requiring cruise ships to use the most effective pollution prevention technologies. The permit was challenged in court by Earth Island Institute’s Campaign to Safeguard America’s Waters and Friends of the Earth who were represented by Earthjustice.
In 2006, Alaskans passed an initiative limiting harmful discharges from cruise ships. Under pressure from the cruise industry, the State weakened the requirements of the initiative. A compromise passed by the Legislature in 2009 set back the date for full implementation of the discharge rules until 2016, but required the industry to use the “most technologically effective” treatment methods in the interim.
DEC’s 2010 cruise ship discharge permit ignored the plain language of the law, allowing every ship to continue discharging pollutants at current levels by claiming any technology already in use would be considered the most effective, even though DEC’s own data demonstrated that some systems worked far better than others. The court noted, “The systems are manufactured by different companies, employ different technologies, and achieve disparate results in removing ammonia, copper, nickel and zinc from the water.” Explaining that “the final permit includes six different sets of pollution limits, depending on the manufacturer of the treatment system currently installed on each ship,” the court is requiring DEC to demonstrate how this approach complies with the law’s requirement to use the most technologically effective methods.
The court also rejected DEC’s denial of the groups’ initial request for a hearing on the permit due to a lack of “standing,” which would have strictly limited which members of the public can appeal agency decisions.
Campaign to Safeguard America’s Waters and Friends of the Earth asked Earthjustice to bring the case to protect Alaska’s water quality because Alaskans depend on clean water to ensure the health and survival of fishery resources. The permit decision will now return to the State for further review. Ships will be allowed to continue discharging under the 2010 permit in the interim.