Alaska's cruise industry
Delivering economic and environmental benefits throughout the state.
One of ACA’s goals is to keep the public updated about issues that affect the Alaska cruise industry and its economic impact on the state. Return to this page to stay up-to-date on ACA initiatives and developments.
Air quality & low-sulfur fuel
Under new international rules approved in April 2010, all commercial ships that visit Southeast and Southcentral Alaska must switch to expensive low-sulfur fuel starting in 2012 – a requirement that will drive up the cost of living for 90 percent of Alaskans and add another $100 million to the cost of operating cruise ships in the state. It will also seriously affect the competitiveness of Alaska as a premier tourism destination. Justification for the rules was based upon emission inventories and modeling on ambient air quality in areas such as Los Angeles. No modeling was done in Alaska. In fact, the air samples that have been taken in the state show Alaska does not have an air quality problem related to ships. Due to Alaska’s inclusion within the new Emission Control Area (ECA), all vessels traveling within 200 miles of the coast are now required to reduce sulfur content in fuel to 1 percent in 2012 and .1 percent by 2015.
The new requirements will have a tremendous impact in Alaska where, unlike the Caribbean or Mexico, cruise ships remain within the 200-mile ECA throughout the entire voyage. In addition to serious supply availability questions, the requirement significantly raises the cost of doing business in Alaska, which may lead to the deployment of vessels to less expensive destinations and a corresponding loss of jobs, taxes and visitor dollars in our economy.
Alaska’s governor and the state’s entire congressional delegation have opposed including Alaska in the ECA until the federal government provides adequate scientific justification and an accurate economic impact analysis.
Wastewater treatment & permits
In July 2001, Alaska approved the nation’s most stringent wastewater discharge law. The effort included a cooperative effort between the government and the industry to conduct numerous scientific studies regarding receiving waters and led to an industry investment of $200 million on the development and installation of the most technologically advanced wastewater purification systems available. Alaska’s standards became a model for other jurisdictions around the world.
Alaska cruise lines went above and beyond to meet the state’s new water standards, going so far as to have systems developed to bring ships in line with the new law. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the new systems work “beautifully,” producing water for discharge that is essentially drinking-water-quality.
Five years later, Alaska voters narrowly approved a wide-ranging citizens’ initiative. The law included a provision requiring all large cruise ships to meet all Alaska Water Quality Standards at the point of discharge. Although the initiative sponsors stated the law would treat cruise ships like all other permittees, no municipal treatment system or other industrial facility (i.e., mining, seafood processing, oil exploration/production, etc.) is required to meet such ultra-high standards. The impact of the initiative, which took effect in 2007, was to prohibit the use of a “mixing zone,” the area where treated wastewater mixes with a body of water. In many cases, cruise lines are held to standards that are more stringent than those used for municipal drinking water.
In 2009, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (ADEC) issued a general discharge permit with interim limits, requiring cruise companies to work toward meeting the long-term end-of-pipe limits. The same year, ADEC held a technology conference and concluded that no technology currently existed that could be installed on a cruise to ship to consistently meet the end-of-pipe discharge standards. As a result, the Alaska State Legislature passed legislation to give the ships more time to meet these standards. It also created a science advisory panel to look at wastewater technologies and their environmental benefits and determine whether options exist that are economically feasible to meet the end-of-pipe standards.
In 2010, ADEC issued a new three-year permit, which the water division director said “provides a very high degree of protection of our waters while taking into account the economic and other practical constraints faced by the industry” and will not have a measurable adverse impact on water quality or aquatic life. That permit was challenged in court by the environmental groups Earth Island Institute’s Campaign to Safeguard America’s Waters (CSAW) and Friends of the Earth because it does not require cruise lines to use those groups’ preferred brand of water treatment system. Cruise ships, like cars and trucks, vary in make and model. Not every system works or fits onboard every ship. While ACA member lines are committed to protecting Alaska’s aquatic environment, each line should be able to select the technology that will work most effectively for its ships while ensuring water treatment standards are met.
To finally resolve the issue, Gov. Sean Parnell introduced HB 80 in 2013, which does not lower the level of treatment, but does allow for a mixing zone, like that of other industries in Alaska. The bill was based on the Science Panel’s report:
“The Science Panel concluded that given the current level of wastewater treatment and quality of effluent, along with very large dilution factors, there would be little, if any, demonstrable environmental benefit in requiring cruise ships to adopt, in the future, potential additional treatment methods,” the governor wrote to the Legislature.
HB 80 passed both houses and was signed into law in late February.