Cruise ship wastewater discharge deregulation moves in Alaska House and Senate

Sapphire Princess
The Sapphire Princess tied up in Juneau. Photo by Casey Kelly/KTOO.

Legislation sponsored by the Parnell administration to relax the state’s cruise ship wastewater discharge rules has now cleared both the House and Senate Resources Committees.

House Resources moved HB 80 Wednesday, with all seven Republicans on the committee voting to advance the bill, while the panel’s two Democrats said it needs more work.

Homer Republican Paul Seaton also said he couldn’t support the current version. But he didn’t want to block the bill from going to the next committee.

Seaton said he’s worried HB 80 would allow mixing zones, where multiple cruise ships can discharge wastewater in the same area. He’s also concerned about losing recent advances in pollution control made after the 2006 citizen initiative that ushered in current regulations.

“The mixing zones are being given. They’re not going to be really monitored,” Seaton said. “The individual vessels can become lax again, like they were in the past.”

Anchorage Democrats Geran Tarr and Chris Tuck unsuccessfully offered several amendments to the bill, including limits on where and when vessels would be allowed to discharge wastewater.

Tarr said she was concerned about the potential harm to salmon and other fish from heavy metals like copper, which is still used in the onboard wastewater systems of some ships.

“In five years, we’ll have missed the boat in terms of protecting [fish],” said Tarr. “So, hopefully we won’t look back on this and really regret our move today.”

At one point Tarr cited California standards, which prompted Anchorage Republican Craig Johnson to say California’s solution is “just say no.”

“I do not want to be compared to California. I do not want to be a state that just says no,” Johnson said. “I want to be a state that continues to work with industry, and maybe we can turn off that ‘Not Open for Business’ sign that we seem to have placed at the borders of our state.”

The bill has yet to be scheduled in another House committee. Companion legislation (SB 29) cleared the Senate Resources Committee on Monday and is currently awaiting a hearing the Finance Committee.

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