US: New Law to Cut Down on Cruise Ship Waste

The cruise industry has gotten so big that all its ships
together could hold each of Miami's 360,000 residents with room to
spare. And just like cities, cruise lines have to deal with a nasty
problem: the millions of gallons of sewage those people produce.

While the industry is installing equipment that one executive
says makes sewage and other wastewater almost as "clean as Perrier,"
environmentalists, state officials and some members of Congress are
pushing to toughen what they call outdated marine pollution standards.

They have worked on the Clean Cruise Ship Act with two
environmental groups, the Bluewater Network and Oceana. Alaska,
California and Maine have already passed stronger laws.

But the cruise industry argues the new standards aren't based
on science and that most water pollution comes from sources on land.
The industry is waiting for federal Environmental Protection Agency
data due in a few months that will show how well the new treatment
systems worked on wastewater dumped in Alaska.

"Public policy dictates that we make good informed decisions
based on science and not based on two polarized groups," said Michael
Crye, president of the International Council of Cruise Lines, an
industry group that represents companies like Carnival Corp. and Royal
Caribbean Cruises Ltd. He said complying with the bill would cost
billions of dollars.

Currently, the federal Clean Water Act from the 1970s lets
cruise ships dump raw sewage anywhere outside of a three-nautical mile
limit from U.S. shores. Inside that territorial water boundary, cruise
ships can release sewage only after reducing its content of fecal
coliform, a harmful bacteria found in human feces.

The industry group has voluntarily agreed to exceed those
rules. It says member lines treat all sewage and discharge it only when
ships are at least four nautical miles from shore (12 miles for Royal
Caribbean) and moving at least 6 knots to better disperse it. The same
distances are used for the "gray water" drained from showers, sinks and
washing machines. Each ship generates up to 1 million gallons of waste
water per week.

Environmentalists argue that self-imposed rules aren't enough, calling the monitoring for compliance spotty, at best.

U.S. Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif., and Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill.,
plan to reintroduce their bill Thursday in Congress, where it died last
year after receiving little support. It would apply to cruise ships
able to carry at least 250 passengers.

Under the act, cruise ships from 12 to 200 nautical miles from
U.S. coasts could discharge sewage, bilge water or other wastewater
only if they are treated to reduce levels of fecal coliform and other
pollutants to meet standards much stricter than current law.

Ships within 12 nautical miles of U.S. shores couldn't release
any treated or untreated wastewater. Cruise companies would have three
years to meet the standards. By 2015, all pollutants would have to be
eliminated from wastewater before dumping. The Coast Guard would test
wastewater samples for compliance.

The cruise industry isn't alone in its opposition to the bill.
While the EPA appreciates the attempt, it's premature to establish new
national standards without the Alaska data, said Benjamin Grumbles,
assistant administrator of the EPA's Office of Water.

AMP Section Name:Tourism & Real Estate
  • 183 Environment

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