Celtic Diva's Blue Oasis: The tourism industry wants to lower their standards...again. But their stooges want different standards for mining?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The tourism industry wants to lower their standards...again. But their stooges want different standards for mining?

I had a really interesting conversation with another Democratic blogger recently. It actually started on the gas line but we ended up talking about the cruise vs. mining industries and between the two of them, who does the most environmental damange and who we could trust.

The jury is out for me on who is more trustworthy (if either) but while I do have concerns about mining, the cruise industry has PROVEN that we can't trust them.

In the history of violations, at least that have been made public, fines have been a wrist-slap when they have existed at all.

Well, the industry is not happy with the impending requirements to more stringent wastewater requirements: removing metals that can contaminate fish.

So they are tackling the issue in typical industry style--schmoozing the ones who can make the difference. Per the Anchorage Daily News:
The tour begins in places cruise-ship passengers never see: the sewage treatment room at the bottom of the hull, the garbage room where crewmen sort paper and plastic amid the unmistakable smell of landfill.

It ends in a plush onboard restaurant called the Pinnacle Grill, where the guests are treated to a lunch of tiger prawns, beef tenderloin and chocolate brownie decadence.

Who gets such a weird tour of a luxurious cruise ship?

State legislators, local government officials and members of civic organizations such as Rotary and the chamber of commerce.

Cruise industry advocates are staging the tours in Alaska ports where more than 30 large cruise ships bring hundreds of thousands of glacier-gazing tourists each summer.

Their message is that cruise ships are clean, discharging far less dirty water and toxic wastes into the sea than they once did.

Yeah, so what about all of that expensive technology they already use? Doesn't that fix everything? Per Seattle PI:
"They make such a big deal about the systems they have bought for treating wastewater, but what they don't tell you is that after those fancy filters are done, they dump this concentrated crap into the ocean," said Fred Felleman, a Bluewater Network environmental consultant who is active in maritime environmental issues.

As can be seen in the above-referenced list of offenses that still happened in 2006 and 2007, there are still a number of fuel spills, graywater spills and wastewater spills in spite of this technology. Not surprising, considering the dismal record of catching and/or punishing them.

So the timing of all this involves the two year "anniversary" of the August 2006 ballot initiative
In 2006, Alaska voters passed a ballot initiative requiring large cruise ships to carry "ocean rangers" to monitor their environmental performance. The initiative also levied a $50 state tax on each cruise-ship passenger, and required operators to have new state permits setting limits on the level of certain pollutants in wastewater the ships flush overboard.

But Binkley and other industry advocates say the permit limits are so tight they could force ships to hold and haul waste for dumping in seas under federal jurisdiction farther offshore.

That could shorten the time some ships and their free-spending passengers can stay in Alaska ports, or eliminate some stops altogether, they say.

By law, state legislators can change an initiative's requirements two years after voters pass it, and Binkley said the industry will seek adjustments.

What's more persuasive than a fancy lunch?
Cruise ships still discharge wastewater from toilets, kitchens and sinks into Alaska seas, but the discharges are far cleaner than they once were, the tour guides explain. And hazardous wastes such as photo processing or dry-cleaning chemicals are either collected for disposal on shore or are no longer used, they say.

The tour moves to the Lido Deck atop the ship, where passengers can relax in a pool or hot tubs beneath a retractable roof and a huge sculpture of frolicking dolphins.

On the bridge, the ship seems to tower above downtown Juneau.

The tour wraps up in the Pinnacle Grill, where our Dutch server pours wine and delivers the sumptuous entrees.

"Bon appetit," he says.

There have already been constant assaults on any attempt to regulate the tourism industry by Legislative lapdogs like Jay Ramras:
Rep. Kyle Johansen, R-Ketchikan, introduced a bill that would replace the onboard monitors with port-side observers. The bill was amended by Rep. Jay Ramras, R-Fairbanks, who said the $4 a head from the tax intended to fund the program would be better spent on Johansen's proposed monitors at ports, plus the creation of a marine ecology research and projects fund.

Ramras received considerable amounts of criticism from both the public and other lawmakers on his amendment and said he would withdraw it during the bill's hearing today in House Judiciary Committee.

Ramras said he had hoped the bill would pass as is and eliminate the need for hiring some 80 Ocean Rangers as called for in the initiative's original language. Eighty monitors could find themselves working for six months and collecting unemployment for the other six months if Johansen's bill failed, he said.

"I don't think the voters would have agreed to that if it had been proposed as a separate ballot initiative," Ramras said.

Yes, because we voters are too stupid to know the details of the initiatives on which we are voting.

So Ramras, interestingly enough, is also anti-Pebble Mine:
The complaint states that Ramras, who has implicated the heads of Pebble Mine for bribing villagers to support the mine, has done so amid sponsoring House Bill 134 — which could not only halt the mine, but also "impair the ability of the Village Corporations and the Regional Corporations to develop their own lands responsibly." The plaintiffs have also expressed concern that the state will send Alaska State Troopers to observe the hearings, which could influence the outcome by intimidating those who may choose to speak against the bill.

Not surprisingly, his "support" seems to coincide with big money members of the tourism industry:
Rep. Jay Ramras, R-Fairbanks, opposes Pebble, and described it as an “ill-conceived project” because of its geographical location at an Alaska Miners Association meeting in Fairbanks last December. “Bob Gillam, who is very unique individual, has a mind to assert a public ballot initiative to tax the industry depending on the industry’s posture toward the Pebble mine,” Ramras told the AMA. “That is like an ultimatum and something that you might want to consider because it would put together pretty draconian measures that would be pretty punitive to the industry,” he added.

So, I'm not willing to expect more out of the mining industry than I am out of the cruise ship industry and neither should anyone else. Unfortunately, there's no one who knows how to wine and dine quite like tourism folks:
Rep. Doll said she supported the cruise-ship initiative and will face a tough decision if the industry seeks changes.

"I've been on the hot spot here in Juneau," she said, having been lobbied by the tourism industry on one side and environmentalists on the other.

Her husband, Bob Doll, said the cruise ships and the thousands of tourists they pour out onto the docks are a hugely important part of the city's economy. The cruise lines, he believes, have cured their pollution problems.

"I don't believe it's an issue," said Doll, standing on the dock after his Zaandam tour. "We've had a tangible demonstration today of why it is not."

Obviously, it works...


Anonymous Polarbear said...

Do you know of an example where commercial interests and public interests are working well together in Alaska?

6/17/2008 9:18 AM  
Blogger CelticDiva said...

Other than small, family businesses, no I don't.

But I'd sure like to hear from folks who might know of any other examples.

6/17/2008 4:30 PM  
Anonymous Polarbear said...

Thanks, Celticdiva. I appreciate your candor. I just have this sense that Gov Palin, Tom Irwin, and company are onto something in the AGIA process. I cannot help wondering if the AGIA process were generalized, to apply to other contentious areas, whether it might help resolve the frequent polarization and gridlock which seems to vex us.

6/17/2008 8:10 PM  

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