Kira Schmidt is campaign director of the Bluewater Network‘s Cruise Ship Campaign. Before joining Bluewater Network last year, Kira worked for three years as a team leader and writer/editor for the International Institute for Sustainable Development’s Earth Negotiations Bulletin. Kira likes to spend her free time playing in the great outdoors — skiing, scuba diving, rock climbing, kayaking, and hiking.

Monday, 24 Jul 2000

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif.

Ah, Monday. It always feels slightly overwhelming coming back to the mountain of work on my desk after two days away from it. I can’t complain too much, though, as I had a very active, adventure-filled weekend of rock climbing and kayaking, so I feel ready to tackle the cruise industry with renewed vigor.

I have to spend a good deal of my time over the next two days preparing for a meeting in Sacramento on Wednesday, in which I will go up against the cruise industry in another round of “negotiations” on a bill Bluewater is backing in the California Legislature. The bill (AB 2746) would require all cruise ships that come to California to report to the state environmental agency on the quantities and characteristics of all pollutants they dump into state waters and all wastes they off-load at our ports.

The cruise industry, not surprisingly, adamantly opposes the bill, claiming they never dump any pollutants into state waters as a matter of voluntary policy, and thus there is no need for the bill. They have hired several lobbyists for the sole purpose of defeating the bill, and have shown up in large numbers at previous meetings organized by legislative aides who are preparing analyses of the bill to advise their legislators how to vote.

Industry representatives are “negotiating” with Bluewater and the bill’s author, Assembly Member George Nakano (D-Torrance), to amend the bill to something they could live with. I say “negotiating” in quotes because they essentially want to gut it and make it completely meaningless. So I will be reviewing their latest proposed amendments and preparing our counter-arguments and our own amendments.

I will also need to lobby all the senators on the Environmental Quality Committee again while I’m in Sacramento, because they will be voting on the bill in a hearing in two weeks, so I will be preparing some materials, talking points, and a written update on the negotiations and amendments to use when I visit the senators’ offices.

We’ve had two of these negotiating sessions already, and they have been grueling, three-hour meetings between the cruise industry’s high-paid corporate lobbyists, top executives from several cruise companies, legislative aides, officials from the state environmental regulatory agencies, and me. The cruise industry has been hammering away at me and the bill, but this time I’m coming to Sacramento armed with some new and powerful ammunition — proof that their claim of zero dumping in state waters is just a bunch of hot air, which will buttress our efforts to demonstrate the urgent need for the legislation.

I will be walking into the meeting and into senators’ offices Wednesday with a stack of newspaper articles written last week as a result of a Bluewater press release about a cruise ship dumping incident in San Francisco Bay. I am extremely pleased with the amount of press coverage we got — in addition to newspaper articles, the story was covered by three major network news programs last Thursday.

A few months ago, a couple from Las Vegas contacted Bluewater Network with their account of an incident of cruise ship dumping they had witnessed. While waiting to disembark from a cruise ship in San Francisco, they were on the balcony of their cabin watching sea lions play when they detected a very strong, noxious chemical odor emanating from below. They looked down and saw its source — a white, frothy discharge being pumped out of the ship, accompanied by the iridescent sheen of an oil slick. They grabbed their camera and snapped three photographs. Meanwhile, as the discharge continued for half an hour or more and spread out over the water, the sea lions noticed it too and took off. The couple recognized the smell of the chemical being discharged — perchloroethylene, or “perc,” the acutely hazardous chemical used by the ship’s dry cleaning facility. They were all too familiar with that toxin, having owned an ice cream shop next door to a dry cleaner for 15 years.

The couple was incensed by what they saw and attempted to report it to the EPA when they returned home to Las Vegas, but were passed around by several officials before they became frustrated and gave up. Then they heard about Bluewater’s cruise ship pollution campaign and had renewed hope that we could help them bring the incident to light and somehow punish the company responsible. We were more than happy to oblige, and sent a letter of intent to sue the company, Royal Caribbean Cruises, for violations of the Clean Water Act.

The best part of the story is that when the EPA and Department of Justice heard about our potential lawsuit, they asked Bluewater to share our evidence with them so they could open their own criminal case. We were again happy to oblige, as the impact and potential punishment possible under a federal criminal case is significantly greater than what Bluewater could get with a civil case.

So our press release publicized the fact that the feds have launched an investigation into the incident. The incident goes to show that cruise ships do still dump pollutants into our waters and that legislators should therefore pass our bill to strengthen the oversight of what cruise ships do with their waste. This new development should make the meeting on Wednesday a lot more interesting, and should make the industry a little more willing to negotiate the text of the bill on our terms.