If you read InvestigateWest‘s piece on the cruise industry this month, or our own coverage of the industry , you know that what happens below deck ain’t nearly as pretty or clean or fun as what happens on deck.
But there was good news for the California coastline on Wednesday, when the EPA announced it is putting a spine into a spineless 2005 law that set out to restrict how and where ships can release pollutants–including untreated sewage–into the state’s shoreline and its waters, which extend three miles from the coast.
In 2005, explains the San Jose Mercury News, “Schwarzenegger signed banning sewage discharges in state waters from cruise ships and commercial ships larger than 300 gross tons.”
But that landmark bill, called the Clean Coast Act, had a loophole. It prohibited all commercial ships from dumping hazardous waste, sewage sludge, oily bilge water, “gray water” from sinks and showers, and sewage in state waters. But treated sewage isn’t covered without EPA authorization under the Clean Water Act. And that coverage is what the EPA announced. It will take most likely take effect after a 60-day public comment period.
So how will this ruling impact the cruise and shipping industries? Reps from both say it’s no big deal since they’re already following the 3-mile rule. Hmmm. Then what, prey tell, explains the EPA’s estimated 20 million gallons of sewage that end up in coastal waters each year? Is that all due to small boaters dumping the contents of their latrines into the water? Seems a tad unlikely.
If it passes, the EPA ruling will put the force of law–and of the US Coast Guard–behind what the industries call their common practices.
This ruling promises to improve the quality not only of coastal waters but also inland waterways, such as the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. But it doesn’t speak to the state of the Northwestern coast, where there are no specific laws strictly governing where and what ships can dump sewage, bilge water, etc. It’s no picnic on the coast of British Columbia, either, where dumping has led the coast to be called the “the toilet bowl of North America.”