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.

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!

Wednesday, 26 Jul 2000

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif.

I’m up early to get on the road to Sacramento. I spent yesterday getting ready for what is sure to be a difficult meeting, and I feel prepared and confident, although not overly optimistic that any agreement on compromise language for our bill will be reached. I spent much of yesterday on phone conferences with the president of the U.S. Cruise Ship Association, and with the legislative aide to Assembly Member George Nakano (the author of our bill), to anticipate how the opposition is likely to react to our proposed amendments.

In an interesting twist, we have managed to get the U.S. Cruise Ship Association on our side in support of the bill. Despite the fact that their ships are relatively small and are therefore exempt from the reporting requirements mandated under the bill, they concur that cruise ship wastes do need to be better monitored and analyzed to determine their impact on the environment, and have agreed to comply with the monitoring provisions voluntarily. They have been an important ally thus far.

But now it appears that we are stuck between a rock and a hard place. The large foreign-flagged cruise lines have offered to voluntarily not discharge wastewater into California waters, in exchange for having the additional reporting requirements relaxed. But the U.S.-flagged cruise ships prefer the additional monitoring and oppose the complete abatement of wastewater discharges because many of their smaller ships don’t have the capacity to hold a great deal of wastewater. So we have to think about trade-offs and deals we can strike to get the best of both worlds from both sides. It will be tricky.

Anyway, I am trying to think about what lies ahead rather than dwelling too much on the imminent meeting — otherwise I’ll get anxious. The tensions run so high in these meetings that I’m looking forward to being back in the office on Thursday and returning to some other tasks.

Like my website. The beauty, and the tragedy too, of being a one-woman campaign is that I do everything — in addition to the advocacy, lobbying, research, and writing involved in my campaign work, I also have to do my own press releases and take care of the website. I work hard to maintain my campaign’s section of the site as an updated information clearinghouse on all things cruise ship and environment related. So I spend a fair amount of time writing HTML and posting new information on the site. It’s fun, but always ends up sucking up lots of time.

The thing I am most looking forward to is doing more work on our petition to the EPA. We submitted a petition to the agency in March, with the support and signatures of 58 other environmental organizations, in which we highlighted several loopholes in environmental regulations that should be monitoring and controlling pollution from cruise ships, and laid out several recommendations for how the EPA could redress these problems.

The EPA responded quickly and positively. They have set up an inter-agency task force which has already held several meetings and brainstorming sessions on how to address the concerns outlined in our petition. They are producing a “white paper” that lays out preliminary ideas for how the agency could remedy the regulatory loopholes and continuing problem of cruise ship pollution. They will hold public hearings in September in California, Alaska, and Florida on the issue, and may issue a rulemaking to establish stronger federal regulations governing cruise ship wastes. I’m pleased with the rapidity of their response and their apparen
t dedication to act on the petition, but I need to keep at them. The white paper was due out weeks ago but has been delayed until next week. And the cruise industry has been demanding numerous meetings with the EPA in an effort to convince them that new regulations will not be necessary because cruise companies will volunteer to be good environmental citizens.

But the real work that I need to do on the petition, aside from prodding my EPA colleagues to get the white paper out and announce the hearings so we can begin preparing for them, is to write and submit an addendum that calls on the EPA to address air pollution from cruise ships. Our original petition addressed sewage, gray water (wastewater from showers, sinks, kitchens, laundry, and other drains), solid waste, hazardous waste, and oil, but not air emissions. However, several violations of air emissions standards have occurred and been cited by the EPA in Alaska in the past few months. In fact, I just received a fax from an Alaskan colleague of the front page of the Juneau Empire, showing a cruise ship belching black smoke while in port in Juneau just yesterday. So I am looking forward to doing some research and writing up a new section to add to the petition. It is likely to upset the cruise industry, as they have been adamantly opposed to the air pollution monitoring section of our bill, but I know this is a significant problem and is painfully under-regulated. Not for long, if I have anything to say about it!

Thursday, 27 Jul 2000

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif.

Yesterday’s meeting in Sacramento was excruciating and exhausting, but relatively productive in the end. It lasted a record four and a half hours, consisting mostly of heated argument and posturing, with a smaller amount of negotiation and compromise on amendments to our cruise ship pollution monitoring bill.

It was a learning experience for both sides. The people who were on the other side of the table represent an industry with a despicable environmental record, yet they claim to be exceedingly environmentally conscious and they are recalcitrant and uncooperative about simply sharing information and being more accountable for what they do with their waste. They clearly do not have much practice at being open to discussion with and scrutiny from regulators, legislators, and environmental groups — a reflection, no doubt, of the inadequate amount of regulation and oversight of their activities to date. I was consistently forced to defend the bill and my work against an onslaught of accusations that we were unfairly singling out the cruise industry. I had to keep reminding them that they had in fact singled themselves out with their pattern of repeatedly getting caught in the act of illegally dumping their wastes into the seas.

We managed to emerge from the lengthy meeting with amendments to the bill that will hopefully get the cruise industry to remove their official opposition. The result was more watered down than what I had hoped for, but both sides compromised, and at least we’ve got a bill that will enable significant scrutiny of the waste management practices of cruise ships in California over the next several years.

With the state agencies and legislative aides present and participating in the meeting, I also got a lesson in political and financial constraints. Environmental bills that cost a lot to implement in terms of human resources and dollars are faced with an uphill battle when headed for the desk of California’s governor. That is a problem I will have to address a few weeks from now, by launching a massive citizen letter-writing campaign, among other strategies.

But first I have to worry about getting the bill through the Senate Environmental Quality Committee on August 7. This morning I will put the finishing touches on the amendments as agreed to at yesterday’s meeting and have a conference call with the industry lobbyists and Assembly Member George Nakano’s aide to review the amended bill and make sure it reflects the compromises struck.

Otherwise, today’s agenda includes preparation for our meeting with Royal Caribbean’s lawyers on our civil suit over a cruise ship dumping incident in San Francisco Bay. I will be researching past marine pollution incidents by Celebrity Cruises and Royal Caribbean ships to use as evidence that the company has a continuing pattern of violations, and making a wish list of concessions to ask for should they be prepared to settle. That will be fun, and I’ve got plenty of good ideas taking shape.

I will also be doing a radio interview with a reporter from Seattle’s local NPR station on our lawsuit. Seattle is a hotspot for cruise ship activism right now, as the city has just opened its first cruise ship terminal, and there are plenty of environmentally conscious citizens and organizations there who are concerned about the impacts of increased cruise ship traffic in their waters. I’ve been building partnerships with a few groups in Seattle over the past few months, and I’ll be working to expand this network in order to, among other things, get legislation similar to our California monitoring bill introduced into the Washington Legislature next year.

Also today I’ll be updating our website and working on the air pollution addendum to our EPA petition.

In advance of the public hearings that the EPA will be holding on cruise ship pollution in early September in California, Alaska, and Florida, a workshop is being held by the Coast Guard and cohosted by the International Council of Cruise Lines. The goal is to show the EPA and other regulators who are addressing our petition how environmentally conscious the cruise industry is, and how adequately vigilant the Coast Guard is in overseeing their activities. It is disturbing how friendly the Coast Guard and the cruise industry are, given that the former is the primary agency responsible for surveillance and enforcement of marine pollution incidents from ships. It has also been very frustrating that EPA officials working on the petition have been bombarded with requests for meetings by the cruise industry, and I have repeatedly voiced my concerns to the EPA that they maintain a balanced perspective when making their determinations about what steps to take to address the problems with cruise ship pollution that we request in our petition.

I finally got a call from the Coast Guard this morning, informing me that myself and two other environmental groups will be invited to their workshop, along with an overly large number of cruise industry representatives. A series of panels are planned by the Coast Guard and state and federal agencies, and the cruise industry will have its own panel. I emphasized my frustration with this lack of balance, and reminded the Coast Guard official that they would not be holding the meeting in the first place had it not been for our petition. I stressed that a panel consisting of environmental group representatives should also be scheduled, and that there should be more invitations to environmentalists to obtain a balance of viewpoints. He just called me back to inform me that they had decided to schedule an environmental panel and that I would be invited to give a 15-minute presentation. So that is a minor coup for today!

I must admit that yesterday’s meeting exhausted me and has me looking forward to tomorrow, when I get to go sailing on the Bay with some friends after work to watch the sunset, and Saturday, when I get to spend the whole day climbing rocks.

Friday, 28 Jul 2000

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif.

It’s Friday and we’re still fine-tuning the amendments to the monitoring bill. More back and forth negotiations on “shall” versus “will” — important stuff! I’m anxious to finalize the language, and I’m hoping that a miracle will occur and we will find some common ground on an amended bill that all parties
can live with.

It looks like I won’t have as much time as I had hoped to work on the air pollution addition to our EPA petition today. Instead I will be responding to requests for information from a number of reporters. I have been getting a lot of calls and emails from reporters from a variety of different media, which is fantastic because it shows that the cruise ship pollution issue is increasingly on the radar screen of the press and therefore the public. One of the reporters is doing an in-depth piece for a Dutch radio station about how Holland America, which cruises under the Dutch flag, has been prosecuted for illegal dumping in Alaska. I also will be furnishing information to an activist in Venezuela who contacted me with concerns about the growing presence of cruise ships there and is eager to become more informed and get a similar campaign going in his country. This is very exciting that Bluewater’s cruise ship campaign is getting some international recognition!

A reporter from a policy journal has also asked me to comment on U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski’s (R) amendment to the Coast Guard Authorization Act, passed yesterday by the Senate, which places restrictions on certain wastewater discharges from cruise ships operating in Alaska. While a step in the right direction, the amended version that passed is considerably weaker than the version that was first proposed in May. I am trying to track down the final text of the amendment and will be analyzing it and offering some comments to the reporter later today.

I am also following up on some insider tips I have just received about more cruise ship pollution violations. I try to keep my ear to the ground about all the violations that occur, as the ever-growing docket is ammunition for me to show decision-makers, the press, and the public how important it is to act now to clamp down on cruise ship pollution. It’s incredible how difficult it is to obtain information about violations if they are not picked up by the press. Almost daily I have to write Freedom of Information Act request letters to get access to reports of violations. But I have established relationships with regulators in key states where cruise ships operate frequently, and the more these violations occur, the more regulators are becoming upset and attuned to the need for stricter regulations and monitoring. And the more willing they are to come to me with reports of violations, rather than me having to dig around and harass them. This is a very positive development. I will find out more about these violations and will be sure to highlight them in my testimony before the California Senate Environmental Quality Committee on Aug. 7 during their hearing on the monitoring bill.

Another fun thing that I will be doing later today is heading down to the office of Act Now Productions. Adam Werbach, former president of the Sierra Club, launched Act Now, an alternative media production company, which, among other excellent work, produces a monthly documentary called The Thin Green Line on cutting-edge environmental issues and the activists who tackle them. I have been working closely with them over the past several months on an upcoming episode on cruise ship pollution. It will feature me and my work on Bluewater’s cruise ship campaign, and it has been really fun working with them on the project. They are putting the finishing touches on it and need some additional information from me, so I’ll be going down to their office to provide it. I’m eager to get a peek at the work in progress, but I won’t be able to see it until it gets closer to airtime. Tune in to The Thin Green Line‘s September episode on the Outdoor Life Network if you’re interested in seeing more about the efforts underway by myself and others working tirelessly to put a stop to the pollution of our seas by cruise ships.

Thanks for reading this week. It’s been fun sharing my daily travails with you. Stay tuned at www.bluewaternetwork.org.