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Challenging Alaska’s Cruise Ship Pollution

Cruise ship at Alaska's Tracy Arm Fjord. The ships dump wastewater into Alaskan coastal waters and leave partially-treated sewage, heavy metals and chemical pollutants in their wakes.

Cruise ship at Alaska's Tracy Arm Fjord. The ships dump wastewater into Alaskan coastal waters and leave partially-treated sewage, heavy metals and chemical pollutants in their wakes.

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What's at Stake

Alaska’s coastal waterways have been tainted by discharges of polluted water from cruise ships. Earthjustice sued and the state, after extended litigation, agreed to reconsider and strengthen its standards.

Case Overview

Earthjustice is representing the Campaign to Safeguard America’s Waters, a project of Earth Island Institute and Friends of the Earth in challenging 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, which dump wastewater into Alaskan coastal waters and leave partially-treated sewage, heavy metals and chemical pollutants in their wakes.

On June 6, 2011, the Alaska Superior Court sided with our clients, holding that the agency needs to reconsider its permit decision in light of the organizations’ challenge. When the agency failed to act in a timely manner, Earthjustice returned to court and won an order requiring the agency to decide the issue by August 31, 2012. The agency’s eventual decision on August 31 acknowledged flaws in the current permit and remanded it back to the division of water with specific instructions on how to avoid similar deficiencies in next year’s permit. This decision is a victory for Alaskans who depend on clean water to ensure the health and survival of fish and other marine and coastal resources.

Related Features

Down to Earth: Q&A with CSAW Project Director Gershon Cohen

Gershon Cohen, project director of the Campaign to Safeguard America’s Waters, speaks with Earthjustice staffer Jessica Knoblauch. For more than a decade, Cohen has been working to clean up the cruise ship industry, which routinely dumps wastewater pollution into national and international waterways. In June, Earthjustice, on behalf of conservation groups like Cohen’s, successfully defended an Alaskan ballot initiative that called for cruise ships to stop discharging waste into Alaska’s pristine waters.

Case Updates

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