Two environmental groups said this week they will fight state regulators in court over the wastewater pollution discharge permit approved this year for large cruise ships passing through Alaska waters.
The groups allege the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation violated a new state law by not requiring the ships receiving the new three-year permit to upgrade their wastewater treatment systems to the best-available technology.
The law passed by the Alaska Legislature in 2009 was seen as a compromise between cruise industry critics who wanted tougher pollution standards, and cruise industry supporters who argued there wasn’t adequate technology to retrofit all of the ships.
The law amended the ballot initiative approved by voters in 2006 that created new taxes and stringent environmental rules for the cruise ship industry. The law gives cruise ship operators more time — until the end of 2015 — to comply with the initiative’s environmental rules.
But the law does require cruise ships in the interim to use a system that the DEC determines is the most technologically effective in treating its wastewater. It also has to be economically justifiable.
Some ships have better wastewater treatment systems than others, and the agency’s permit violates the 2009 law because it allows ships with less effective treatment systems to continue using them, according to Gershon Cohen, a Haines resident and campaigner for the Earth Island Institute, one of the groups that is going to court.
The groups have already been rebuffed once by the state agency, which rejected their request for an administrative review of the permit in July. The agency said the groups didn’t prove the treatment system they prefer is the best choice for all of the ships.
This week, the Earth Island Institute’s Campaign to Safeguard America’s Waters and Friends of the Earth filed a notice of intent to appeal the state’s decision in state Superior Court in Juneau.