Alaska House bill would repeal cruise ship pollution rule

MIXING ZONES: Change would let discharge levels exceed standards.

February 16, 2009 

A quarter of the members of the state House are co-sponsoring a bill to repeal a water-pollution provision in the cruise-ship law that voters approved in 2006.

Rep. John Harris, R-Valdez, and 10 co-sponsors introduced legislation that would remove a provision from the cruise law that prevents state regulators from granting mixing zones to cruise ships. Mixing zones are areas in a water body where a pollution discharge can exceed state standards. No other industry in Alaska is banned from using mixing zones, and the state routinely approves them for sewage plants, seafood companies and mines.

The cruise industry says that many of their ships traveling to Alaska would not be able to comply with the mixing zone ban based on existing pollution-control technology. The new rules take effect in 2010.

"I think the issue is being able to level the playing field," said Rep. Cathy Muñoz, R-Juneau, at a House Republican press conference on Monday. She is one of the co-sponsors.

The bill's other sponsors are mainly Republicans: Reps. Charisse Millett and Craig Johnson of Anchorage; Wes Keller of Wasilla; Mike Chenault of Nikiski; Mike Kelly of Fairbanks; Kyle Johansen of Ketchikan; John Coghill of North Pole; and Peggy Wilson of Wrangell. The bill's Democrat sponsor is Richard Foster of Nome.

The supporters of the cruise law said they will fight the bill. The advocacy group Responsible Cruising in Alaska sent a letter to lawmakers Monday saying the bill is "premature and unnecessary." The group claims the industry will be able to find the technology needed to comply with the mixing zone ban by next year, when the ban goes into effect.

But the cruise industry, which has been lobbying in favor of the pollution rule change, disagrees. In a letter to legislators last week, the Alaska Cruise Association said the cruise lines will make their ship deployment decisions for 2010 this spring and the issue should be resolved now. The issue is one of fairness, and discussions about future technology should "not be used as a distraction to the very important goals that can be accomplished this legislative session," the letter said.

The bill, House Bill 134, is scheduled for its first hearing today at 8 a.m. in the House Community & Regional Affairs Committee. A follow-up hearing is scheduled Thursday.

Find Elizabeth Bluemink online at adn.com/contact/ebluemink or call 257-4317.

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