Court Orders Alaska to Fix Cruise Ship Wastewater Discharge

Best treatment technology not being broadly applied


Shawn Eisele, Earthjustice, (907) 586-2751


Gershon Cohen, PhD, CSAW, (907) 766-3005


Marcie Keever, Friends of the Earth, (510) 900-3144

An Alaskan Superior Court has ordered the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (ADEC) to address grave problems in its permits for wastewater pollution from cruise ships.

"To protect our water, cruise ships are supposed to use the best pollution treatment that’s economically feasible." (iStockphoto)

The court issued an “Order to Compel” to DEC for failing to address challenges to the Cruise Ship Discharge Permit that allows cruise ships to dump their wastewater into Alaska’s waterways. Those challenges were brought by Earthjustice on behalf of Campaign to Safeguard America’s Waters (CSAW) and Friends of the Earth (FoE) because the permit violated key provisions of the state’s pollution law. CSAW and FoE won the case in May 2011, however, ADEC has failed to fix the significant flaws in the permit for more than fourteen months. The court is now ordering ADEC to act by August 31st.

“The cruise ship discharge permit failed to require the ships to use the “best available technologies” to reduce the levels of pollutants in their discharges as required by the law …” according to Gershon Cohen, Project Director of CSAW, “… or to perform any economic analysis to demonstrate why full compliance shouldn’t be required.”

According to Shawn Eisele, an attorney with Earthjustice, “Alaska is being unreasonable. To protect our water, cruise ships are supposed to use the best pollution treatment that’s economically feasible. So it made a lot of sense when, over a year ago, the court rejected the state’s attempt to let ships keep using whatever treatment systems they were already using. But it doesn’t make sense that the state has done nothing since the court’s decision, and just keeps letting the pollution flow.”

In 2009, the state legislature passed amendments to the 2006 voter-approved ballot measure on cruise ship practices. They gave the industry six additional years to meet the state’s Water Quality Standards, provided in the interim they would use the best technologies available to reduce pollution. ADEC publicly acknowledged that some technologies currently installed on several ships in the fleet far outperformed other treatment systems for the removal of heavy metals toxic to fish. But ADEC assigned discharge limits for each ship on the basis of whatever treatment system each ship currently had on board—ignoring the variation in performance by different systems.

“We brought this case to protect Alaska’s water quality because Alaskans depend on clean water to ensure the health and survival of fishery resources,” said Marcie Keever, oceans and vessels project director at Friends of the Earth. “Thankfully the court has ordered ADEC to act after its year-long delay.”

Under this court order, the state must explain why the permit doesn’t require the use of the best available technologies and determine the economic feasibility of requiring the industry to do a better job to reduce the levels of metals and ammonia in their discharges.

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