California Targets Liners

Boom in cruise ships prompts legislative efforts on pollution

By: Judi Erickson

The surging cruise industry in California has spurred legislative efforts to limit pollution with what would be some of the strictest state laws in the nation.

The three bills, approved by the state Assembly in June, seek to regulate wastewater and air emissions from cruise ships in or near state waters and marine sanctuaries. Cruise industry officials say the bills are not needed because they already are doing what the bills would mandate.

The bills faced a deadline late last week in the Senate Appropriations Committee that would determine whether they move on toward becoming law this year.

But two of the bills’ authors said that even if the bills stall, they will continue to pursue legislative efforts.

“It’s all too easy when you look out over the water and see these beautiful ships gliding up and down the coast to remain blissfully unaware of the environmental concerns they pose,” said Assemblyman Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto. Cruise industry officials say they already have adopted pollution control measures that often exceed strict federal requirements.

“Much of these legislative vehicles mirror what we’ve already adopted in the industry, that are included in a ship safety-management system and therefore audited to the Coast Guard,” said Michael Crye, president of the International Council of Cruise Lines. “In large part what they’re talking about here for the cruise industry is already being done.”

California is the latest state to take aim at environmental concerns and the burgeoning cruise industry, estimated to have had an annual average global growth rate of more than 8 percent since 1980.

Florida was the first to address concerns, forging a voluntary alliance on environmental standards with the industry. Hawaii adopted a similar agreement. Alaska has been the only state to approve legislation on wastewater and air discharges, and assesses the cruise industry to fund a monitoring program. Late last year, a report by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation said state and federal cruise ship regulations appeared to have limited cruise ship discharge in Alaska waters.

A spokeswoman with the state’s commercial passenger vessel environmental compliance program said that since the regulations went into effect violations have dropped. Only one discharge violation was cited last year, and air emission violations have dropped from 15 in 2000 to just one last year, she said.

In California, the bills proposed by assembly members Simitian, George Nakano, D-Torrance and John Laird, D-Santa Cruz, seek to limit cruise ship wastewater discharge to three miles from shore, prohibit all discharge within marine sanctuaries, prohibit the burning of garbage 20 miles from shore, and require cleaner-burning diesel fuel within 25 miles of shore.

About three dozen environmental groups and officials support the bills, including environmental advocacy group Bluewater Network, which estimates cruise lines have been fined more than $50 million by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for dumping violations in the past decade.

But the International Council of Cruise Lines said in a statement that the bills are singling out an industry that represents about 1 percent of all ships calling on California ports, and noted runoff from land-based sources has been cited as a primary source of ocean pollution.

Others in the industry have noted that cruise lines are only a small portion of the maritime industry.

“The real issue here is that cruise ships by their very nature represent a very distinct and different set of problems,” Simitian said. “A large tanker can have as few as a dozen or two crew on board relatively little in terms of human waste and few waste disposal issues.”

Simitian and Nakano, who also has backed legislation to regulate land-based sources of ocean pollution, say voluntary standards are not enough.

A draft summary of a study by the state Cruise Ship Environmental Task Force said the panel did a comprehensive review of the issues and will recommend the state establish an inspection and monitoring program for the cruise industry. “I think we’ve gotten to a point where trust is not an acceptable environmental policy anymore,” said Simitian.

Becki Ames, chief of staff for Nakano, said that while cruise ships are voluntarily complying with discharge standards, legislation will give the state a greater ability to control its environmental destiny.

“We as a state rely on the tourism industry,” Ames said. “We rely on pristine beaches. ... Putting this into law simply puts a mechanism into place where we can go after violators.”

Ames said Nakano also will continue to pursue legislative efforts if the current bills hit hurdles amid questions over cost and enforcement.

Crye said the cruise industry remains committed to environmental protection and would be willing to discuss a voluntary agreement with the state. “We have already taken affirmative and positive steps to reduce our environmental footprint and will continue to do that simply because it’s in our best interest,” Crye said.