Cruise Ship Waste Water Bill Goes To Governor
Regulations relaxed on cruise ship waste water discharge
By Mary Kauffman
February 20, 2013
Once signed by the Governor Parnell, who also introduced the bill, the measure will relax regulations on cruise ships, and will permit the vessels to use mixing zones when cruise ships release waste. Once signed, it strikes part of a 2006 citizens’ initiative that requied vessels to meet clean water standards at the point of discharge.
Minority Democrats in the Senate cited striking part of a citizens’ initiative requiring vessels to meet clean water standards at the point of discharge as a reason for opposing the bill during their floor speeches.
In 2006, Alaskans voted to enact legislation which said cruise ships “may not discharge untreated sewage, treated sewage, graywater or other wastewaters in a manner that violates any applicable effluent limits or standards under state or federal law, including Alaska Water Quality Standards governing pollution at the point of discharge.”
Parnell’s bill repeals the last clause of this law so that dumping of ‘partially’ treated sewage and wastewater in Alaska state waters (in areas labeled “mixing zones”) could be considered adequate “treatment.”
HB 80 passed the Alaska State House last week and received a final Senate vote yesterday. On February 13th, Senate Republicans rejected amendments which Alaska Democrats said would have protected state-designated fish and game refuges from dumping and which would have required public disclosure of where cruise ships are dumping partially treated sewage and wastewater. House Republicans also rejected a public right-to-know amendment and an amendment to protect fisheries, both of which were introduced by House Democrats.
Sen. Lyman Hoffman, a Democrat from Bethel, joined the Senate majority in approving the measure. The bill passed the House last week on similar party lines.
According to Senator Cathy Giessel’s (R- Anchorage) floor speech on Tuesday, HB 80 allows for a cruise ship effluent mixing zone to meet Alaska marine Water Quality Standards. She said these are the same mixing zones that allow municipal wastewater treatment plants, fish processors, and others to have mixing zones permitted through a public process.
Sen. Giessel speaking in support of HB 80 on the Senate floor said the bill is a result of years of research by two science-based advisory panels, two technology workshops that were held in Juneau, and by the US Environmental Protection Agency and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. Giessel said technology has significantly advanced the wastewater treatment systems that are required on large cruise ships with more than 250 lower berths in Alaska waters.
"There has been some confusion related to a 2003 report that was brought up in our floor discussion last week. The 2003 report analyzed small vessels of 50-249 passenger berth capacity. An IMPORTANT fact to note is that these smaller vessels are not required to have advanced wastewater treatment systems. Because of this, there are many areas where discharge is prohibited by regulation, such as critical habitat areas, newar salmon streams and in herring spawning areas. HB 80 continues to apply these stringent requirements to these smaller vessels, including 5 state ferries. Without HB 80, beginning in 2016, these small vessels will have to meet all water quality standards at point of discharge. They will be unable to do so," said Giessel.
Giessel said HB 80 also affects large passenger vessels with 250 or more lower berths. The bill continues to require these vessels, if they desire to discharge in Alaska waters, to have the most advanced treatment technology available. And that is what the large vessels have today said Giessel. "After three years of study, the most recent Science Advisory Panel found that there are no newer technologies, at the present time, or on the horizon, that can effectively lower the already minimal levels of copper, zinc, nickel and ammonia achieved by this advanced technology without a mixing zone of dilution," she said.
Today, large passenger vessels, using advanced wastewater treatment systems, produce effluent that is generally of higher quality than is produced by land-based treatment systems said Sen. Giessel. Speaking in support of HB 30 she asked, "What about these land-based systems?" 'Land-based treatment systems' refers to those found in Alaska coastal communities. Giessel said, "Some land-based systems provide only primary treatment of wastewater and all land-based systems are allowed a mixing zone around the discharge area, in order to meet water quality standards."
Giessel said HB 80 will allow a mixing zone for the significantly cleaner wastewater discharged from large commercial vessels. With a mixing zone the highest water standard is nearly instantaneously achieved when the vessel is underway at 6 knots or more. For the seven large commercial passenger vessels that were permitted to discharge while in port last year – they had to meet even more.
The intent of HB 80 is to apply a consistent environmental approach to all wastewater dischargers in Alaska - cruise ships, municipalities, fish processors and others. The Department of Environmental Conservation will continue to evaluate and issue permits for discharges allowed in Alaska waters. This consistent approach, allowing for a mixing zone for cruise ships, continues to protect Alaska's delicate marine environment said Giessel.
"Alaska Dept of Fish & Game has stated that they do not have any fishery, harvest, or habitat conflict concerns with the allowed mixing zone enacted through HB 80," said Giessel.
The passage of HB 80 will not alter DEC’s mission or duty to protect Alaska waters said Giessel. Permits must be renewed every 5 years and the public has opportunity to review and comment every time.
Giessel said, "HB 80 does not lower water quality standards or limit DEC authority to consider new technologies as they become available. HB 80 does not allow a “roll-back” of the high standards for effluent attained by the permitted large commercial passenger vessels required to use advance technology. HB 80 does not eliminate the permitting or effluent monitoring requirements for these large vessels. It definitely does not allow discharge of “untreated” or “partially treated” wastewater."
Giessel said, "DEC will continue to address wastewater effluent using the best science available. The standards will continue to be applied to treated wastewater whether it is coming from a municipal treatment plant, a fish processor, a cruise ship or any other permitted operator."
Wedesday nonight, Senator McGuire (R-Anchorage) provided documents to support statements she made on the Senate Floor on Tuesday regarding the passage of House Bill 80. House Bill 80 amends the 2006 citizen’s initiative which made standards for cruise ship wastewater discharge more stringent than Alaskan municipal sewage treatment plants and other industrial dischargers such as fish processors.
"Some people have misconstrued my statements as saying I believe voters may have been confused when they voted on the Cruise Ship initiative in 2006," said Senator McGuire. "I think quite the opposite. In fact, Alaska has some of the most educated and engaged voters in the United States. These documents prove the citizen’s initiative was misrepresented on the ballot and that may have caused voters to make a decision they otherwise would not have made."
During Senator McGuire's floor speech yesterday, she requested permission from the Senate President to enter both documents into public record and then she read from them. The documents Senator McGuire referred to are an editorial written by Gershon Cohen, one of the main sponsors of the original 2006 initiative and the 2012 November report from the Cruise Ship Wastewater Advisory Panel.
Cohen's editorial was published just days before Alaskans voted on the Cruise Ship Initiative. In it, Cohen wrote: “Alaska has the best seafood in the world and Ballot Measure 2 will help keep it that way by requiring cruise ships to meet and verify compliance with all Alaska pollution rules like every other industrial and municipal discharger.”
“Unfortunately, what voters weren’t told is municipal and other industrial dischargers are allowed a mixing zone. Under the citizen’s initiative, cruise ships were not,” said Senator McGuire. “A scientific panel has now shown meeting those standards at the point of discharge is impossible with current technology. That same panel also found that the data provided on the ballot measure was misleading and inaccurate.”
The Cruise Ship Wastewater Advisory Panel was established by the Legislature in 2009. In its November 2012 report, the panel wrote “Statements that the requirement imposed by the citizen’s initiative was an application of the state’s standards in a manner comparable to other Alaskan facilities are not accurate. Alaskan municipal and other dischargers to marine waters, as well as Alaskan first processors, are all allowed mixing zones and then, after consideration of this dilution, must meet Alaska’s Water Quality Standards at the mixing zone boundaries.”
“I think one of the most important things that came out of this debate is the need to make even greater improvements to the systems used by Municipalities to treat and release their sewage,” said Senator McGuire. “One way to do that would be to use money collected from Cruise Ship head tax established by the citizen’s initiative and I intend to pursue that this session.”
“Repealing the 2006 citizens’ initiative to allow dumping of ‘partially’ treated sewage is just one part of Outsiders’ war on Alaskans,” said Mike Wenstrup, Chair of the Alaska Democratic Party. “Outside bills, introduced by Republicans, are an attempt to take away our resources, our civil rights, and our traditional values.”
Wenstrup said last week, “Follow the money: $392,550 in campaign contributions and lobbyist salaries goes a long way in explaining why repealing the 2006 citizen initiative is the Republicans’ first priority in Juneau.”
House Republicans rejected amendments by House Democrats last week which Democrats said would have required disclosure of the location of sewage discharges and protected fisheries from sewage discharges.
“We want Outside tourists’ money, not their sewage. Alaskans voted in 2006 to protect our waters and the salmon fisheries that depend on them. It is outrageous that Republicans would repeal that citizen initiative on behalf of a few Outside interests,” said Mike Wenstrup, Chair of the Democratic Party.
House Bill 80 is now headed to Governor Sean Parnell for his signature. Once signed, it becomes law.
Edited by Mary Kauffman, SitNews
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