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May 1, 2003

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Daryl Savage at (650) 688-6384


PALO ALTO – A pair of “Clean Coast” environmental bills to reduce air pollution and the amount of sewage dumped from cruise ships made headway this week after both bills passed in the Assembly Environmental Safety Committee. The legislation, introduced by Assemblymember Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto), seeks to strictly regulate cruise ship waste along the California coast.

The proposed crackdown on dumping waste comes in the wake of increased concern by environmental groups about dangerous toxins being discharged by large vessels on the California coastline and its sanctuaries, including Monterey Bay.

Simitian’s first piece of Clean Coast legislation, Assembly Bill 121, prohibits cruise ships from discharging specific kinds of waste, including raw sewage, bilge and ballast water, which threaten both water quality and wildlife along the coast and sanctuaries. The recent surge in cruise ship popularity and the opening of ports in San Francisco and Monterey for cruise line travel also has the potential to pose a public safety risk to swimmers and beach-goers.

“It’s a double-edged sword. I’m happy to see the cruise business expanding into Northern California, but we’ve got to set limits on the amount and type of waste these ships discharge in the water. It’s the coastal ecosystem that’s at risk,” Simitian said.

Specifically, Simitian seeks to prohibit dumping waste within three miles of the California coastline. Sewage and toxic chemicals are currently being dumped too close to shore, according to Simitian. And the problem with ballast water is that the discharge often contains microscopic organisms picked up in foreign ports of call. When ballast water is released in the Bay Area, it can disrupt local coastal ecosystems. “This practice has the potential to seriously threaten local species of fish and wildlife,” Simitian said. “It’s the kind of damage that, once done, is exceedingly hard to undo.”

The bill further requires cruise ship owners and operators to submit a quarterly report detailing the contents of what they discharge into the coastal waters.

A typical seven-day cruise can generate 50 tons of garbage and more than 200,000 gallons of sewage, according to Bluewater Network, a San Francisco–based environmental group, who is a sponsor of Simitian’s bill.  One passenger generates about 10 gallons of pure sewage a week, according to data from the Environmental Protection Agency. “Multiply that by the number of people on cruise ships, upwards of 3,000 individuals, and in some cases you’ve literally got tons of waste floating in the water,” Simitian said.

“Backpackers have known for years that when ‘you hike it in, you hike it out.’ The cruise ship industry needs to learn this lesson. Assemblyman Simitian’s legislation will force cruise ships to do exactly that,” said Russell Long, Executive Director for Bluewater Network.

The bill prohibits dumping biological and chemical wastes, hazardous substances, sewage, industrial waste, medical waste, munitions, ballast, oil, radioactive materials, solid wastes, toxic wastes, and wrecked or discarded equipment.

Simitian’s other bill in the Clean Coast pair, Assembly Bill 471, concentrates on the volume of air pollution emitted by fuel from cruise ships.

When a cruise ship is at port, such as San Francisco Bay, it emits the same amount of pollution as 12,200 cars, according to Monterey Bay Air Pollution Control District. Additionally, the South Coast Air Quality Management District reported a 71% cancer risk from toxic air pollution in Los Angeles, a significant portion of which comes from ocean vessels.

“Another problem is the incineration of garbage on cruise ships,” Simitian said. The legislation will prohibit on-board incineration of garbage within 90 miles of the coastline. This, in turn, will further decrease the amount of air pollution emitted by cruise ships. AB 471 also addresses the type of fuel a large vessel can utilize. Only low-sulfur diesel fuel can be used within 25 miles of the California coast.

The Clean Coast bills are sponsored by Bluewater Network. Additional supporters include: Oceana, Natural Resources Defense Council, Save Our Shores, Ocean Conservancy, Surfrider Foundation, WaterKeepers, San Franciscans For a Healthy Waterfront, Friends of the Sea Otter, Sierra Club (Ventana Chapter), American Cetacean Society (Monterey Chapter), Carmel-by-the-Sea Councilmember Barbara Livingston, and District 1-PCD, Meba AFL-CIO, which is the oldest maritime union in the United States.

Assemblymembers George Nakano (D-Torrance) and John Laird (D-Santa Cruz) are joint authors on AB 121 and AB 471. Simitian is also a joint author on AB 906, which regulates the discharge of “gray water” by cruise ships.