State closes air opacity cases, assesses half million in fines
As the state-led Alaska Cruise Ship Initiative headed into what was billed as its final meeting Nov. 15, government officials announced they have concluded all enforcement actions on air opacity violations from last year and most from this year.
Environmental Conservation Commissioner Michele Brown also praised cruise companies for responding to public pressure for cleaner emissions and wastewater discharges, noting a variety of steps that have been taken in upgrading equipment, researching new technologies and changing procedures.
Brown said in a news release, "DEC worked with the Department of Law to ensure a firm and consistent enforcement policy that had clear consequences for violating standards but also recognized the leadership shown and investments made by the cruise lines, especially Princess and Crystal, to improve performance. The cruise lines have made considerable progress toward much cleaner air."
There hasn’t been any question of violating federal health standards through smokestack emissions. Testing in downtown Juneau in 2000 and 2001 showed ambient air quality well below the maximum allowable levels for sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and fine particulates.
Opacity, rather, is mostly an aesthetic standard. Federal and state law generally prohibit smokestack emissions that obscure more than 20 percent of the visible background, with exceptions made for maneuvering, docking and starting up engines.
This year, the state’s contractor took 238 opacity readings from early May through late August, with 229 of those in Juneau, eight in Skagway and one in Haines. The state considered levying penalties for 19 violations, down from 30 apparent violations in 2000.
The largest fines are:Holland America, $165,000 for six violations in 2000, of which $55,000 was suspended, and $27,500 for one violation this year, also suspended. The suspended penalties are contingent upon no violations by the Veendam in 2002. State officials noted that the company’s addition of an engineer improved compliance. Princess Cruises, $55,000 for two violations in 2000, and a suspended $55,000 penalty for two violations this year, contingent upon no violations by the Regal Princess next year. Princess improved compliance significantly once its shore-side power project was completed, voluntarily and at the company’s expense. Crystal Cruises, $55,000 for two violations in 2000, and $55,000 for two in 2001, of which $27,000 is suspended contingent upon a violation-free season in 2002. State officials praised Crystal for switching to lighter, more expensive fuels without prompting from the government.Other companies penalized were Celebrity Cruises, World Explorer, Carnival Cruise Line and Norwegian Cruise Line.The total settlements are $577,500, of which $402,500 is in cash."It is my hope that the suspended fines will encourage these cruise lines to keep improving the environmental compliance of their ships," said Attorney General Bruce Botelho.Five apparent opacity violations from this year still are being discussed by state officials and cruise lines, according to DEC.The Cruise Ship Initiative, launched by DEC in late 1999, brought together federal and state regulators, industry executives and citizen watchdogs in a voluntary program to measure and assess waste streams. Wastewater testing done last year, showing high levels of fecal coliform bacteria, led to passage this June of a groundbreaking state law regulating the industry.