Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin introduced legislation extending the Clean Water Act to regulate the millions of gallons of wastewater discharged in U.S. waters every day by cruise ships.
Durbin's bill, known as the Clean Cruise Ship Act, would ban the release of untreated sewage in U.S. waters, including the Great Lakes. Durbin represents Illinois, a state bordering the Great Lakes.
Similar legislation, also called the Clean Cruise Ship Act, was introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressman Sam Farr, a California Democrat.
The legislation would amend the Clean Water Act to regulate cruise ships under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System for sewage, graywater and bilge water.
"The average cruise ship produces over 1.2 million gallons of wastewater every week," Durbin said. "Today, there are more than 230 cruise ships operating around the world, generating millions of gallons of wastewater daily. Under the current system, these ships can directly dump their waste into our oceans and the Great Lakes with minimal oversight."
Laws currently allow cruise ships to dump untreated sewage three miles from shore, which Farr said endangers public health, the environment and the economy.
A cruise ship enters San Francisco Bay (Photo by Thomas Schrantz)
Both the Senate and the House measures would prohibit the discharge of sewage, graywater, and bilge water within 12 miles of shore.
Outside of 12 miles, sewage, graywater, and bilge water would have to be treated to reduce pollution to the levels currently achievable by advanced wastewater treatment systems.
The bills prohibit the dumping of sewage sludge, incinerator ash and hazardous waste in U.S. waters and create inspection and sampling programs and an onboard observer program.
Durbin said his interest in this legislation was sparked by a report on ocean pollution that was published in 2003 by the Pew Oceans Commission.
Since then, reports by the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy and the U.S. EPA have confirmed the threat of cruise ship pollution to human health and aquatic environments.
In December 2008, the EPA released a report which concluded that the marine sanitation devices ships are required to use in order to dump human body wastes and other toilet waste within three miles of shore were not working.
"Big cruise ships make for big pollution, it's an unavoidable truth," said Congressman Farr introducing his bill in the House. "Unfortunately, responsible disposal of that waste hasn't always been a given. The cruise ship industry is way overdue to take responsibility for its actions."
"The Monterey Peninsula saw what happens when things go wrong after thousands of gallons of wastewater were dumped off our coastline," said Farr, who represents a California coastal district. "It's ironic that the cruise industry relies on a clean ocean and pristine coastlines for its livelihood, but doesn't put in the effort to sustain them. This carelessness must not be allowed to continue."
A recent report on the cruise industry's environmental performance clearly shows that not all companies are making an equal effort to safeguard the ocean waters on which they depend," Farr said.
That report card, issued by Friends of the Earth, ranks the major cruise companies according to their efforts to reduce their environmental footprint.
"If the whole industry followed the positive lead of some of the higher-scoring cruise companies, this law wouldn't be necessary," Farr said. "Since they haven't, Congress must take action to protect our waters."
"The Clean Cruise Ship Act will protect our ocean and coastal waters and the communities that use them by putting a stop to the cruise industry's irresponsible dumping," said Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth, an environmental nonprofit with a history of working on water pollution issues. "By introducing this bill, Congressman Farr continues his long and substantial legacy as a champion for our oceans."
"Cruise ships are currently allowed to dump raw sewage just three nautical miles from shore. This practice is not only disgusting, it can threaten the public health, coastal tourism, fishing economies, and marine ecosystems," said Neesha Kulkarni, legislative associate at Friends of the Earth. "Advanced technology is available to treat this waste, but the cruise industry has failed to install this equipment on a majority of its ships. The Clean Cruise Ship Act would put a stop to this practice and hold the cruise industry accountable."
"Vacation cruises can be a wonderful way to see the world," Durbin said, "but we cannot afford to leave the destruction of the oceans in the wake of these ships."
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