Tuesday, 25 Jul 2000

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif.

It’s Tuesday morning and I’m gearing up for tomorrow’s showdown with the cruise industry in Sacramento. Deep breaths. The industry representatives who will be on the other side of the table at tomorrow’s meeting will be none too happy with me for generating so much press on the criminal case that the EPA and Department of Justice opened last week against Royal Caribbean’s Celebrity Cruises for alleged dumping in San Francisco Bay. I particularly sought to drive home in all my interviews with the press that this incident further demonstrates the need to enact legislation to better monitor and regulate cruise ships. So it is likely to be a heated debate.

There were some interesting developments yesterday on the legal actions being undertaken in response to the dumping incident. I received a letter from Celebrity Cruises’ vice president of corporate communications that responds to Bluewater’s June 30th notice of violation and intent to sue. The letter claims that the company reviewed the records of the ship responsible for the alleged dumping, and they believe we are mistaken about the nature of the discharge. The letter asserts that the discharge was not perchloroethylene (a hazardous dry cleaning chemical) and oil, as we and our witnesses attest, but harmless runoff from deck washing. The letter invites Bluewater and our counsel to sit down and discuss the incident, as well as any concerns or suggestions on how they might improve their operations.

I just had a long chat with our attorney, who has been contacted by Royal Caribbean’s attorney, and we have arranged a tentative meeting for three weeks from now. We brainstormed about what Bluewater might be able to ask for in terms of settling our intent to file a civil suit against Royal Caribbean for illegal dumping. This is something I will have to think creativel
y about and strategize with my boss about over the next week. But there are some interesting ideas taking shape already, and it is a truly exciting opportunity to have the second largest cruise company negotiate with us on their waste management policies and practices.

I also got a call yesterday from an official at a California government agency who expressed interest in opening another criminal case at the state level to bring this incident to justice. I shared our evidence with the official, while also informing her about a possible solution to preventing these kinds of incidents from recurring in our waters — our bill before the California Legislature to improve the monitoring of cruise ship waste management.

I reviewed the cruise industry lobby’s proposed amendments to our bill yesterday and was dismayed by their proposals. They are seeking to water the bill down to a study of the regulations that already apply to cruise ship waste management to determine their adequacy, and a “legislative finding” that the cruise industry voluntarily agrees not to discharge wastewater into California waters. Unbelievable! After speaking at length yesterday with the staff of the bill’s author, Assembly Member George Nakano, I am learning about what kind of compromise is going to have to emerge from our tug-of-war with the industry over this bill in order to get California’s shamelessly middle-of-the-road governor to agree to sign it. We discussed many points of opposition that the industry is likely to raise. So after drafting my own revised version of the bill yesterday, I am going to be busy redrafting it again today and gathering evidence and statistics to counteract their opposition.

For instance, a major point of contention in the bill is that it requires that visible air emissions from cruise ships — smokestacks — be monitored to ensure they are not exceeding emissions limitations. The industry opposes this, purportedly because a related (and painfully slow) process is underway in the Southern California air district to regulate these emissions. I will have to piece together a solid argument that this process does not actually monitor their emissions, and monitoring is sorely needed, because many of the ships that operate in California have been cited for violating the visible air emissions standards in Alaska in the past six months.

I am also trying to drum up support for the bill from various state agencies that would be involved in implementing the legislation. Bluewater has already put together a coalition of 21 California environmental organizations that support the bill, and has developed action alerts to get citizens to urge their legislators to vote in its favor, but I have learned the importance of convincing the regulators of the need for the bill. Thus far I’ve been discouraged to find regulators to be all too complacent and reluctant to add more work to their dockets. But my conversation with the official I mentioned above who is interested in prosecuting the San Francisco Bay dumping incident was encouraging; hopefully this incident and all the press we got on it will incite other regulators. So today I’ll be making calls to various state regulatory agency officials to update them on the bill’s developments and request that they send in letters to the Senate Environmental Quality Committee expressing support for the bill.

Also on my plate today is reviewing and commenting on recent amendments to a federal bill submitted by U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska) to limit cruise ship waste water discharges in Alaska’s sensitive Inside Passage. I’ve been working closely with environmental groups in Alaska who have been involved in a process between the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, the cruise industry, and the public to address concerns with cruise ship waste disposal in Alaska. We are tracking this bill closely and have been getting calls from the press to comment on it. Bluewater analyzed the initial bill and submitted detailed comments to Murkowski’s office last month, but it has undergone changes since that time which significantly weaken the limits on where wastewater can and cannot be dumped.

I’m looking forward to this meeting tomorrow being over so I can get back to work on our petition to the EPA to address cruise ship pollution. Stay tuned!