WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today introduced legislation to help protect the world’s oceans and the Great Lakes from damage caused by cruise ship pollution.
“Massive cruise ships can be massive ocean polluters,” Durbin said. “We cannot afford to leave the destruction of the oceans in the wake of our vacation cruises.”
The legislation, known as the Clean Cruise Ship Act, raises current pollution control standards by creating coastal zones in which cruise ships are prohibited from dumping waste, strengthening standards for waste treatment, and increasing surveillance to ensure cruise ship compliance with anti-pollution laws. Durbin says these measures are needed to keep pace with the challenges posed by today’s cruise ship industry, whose fleets include larger and larger vessels each year.
“In one week, a large cruise ship generates 500,000 gallons of sewage, 37,000 gallons of oily bilge water and more than 1.7 million gallons of ‘gray water’ which includes wastewater from sinks, showers, laundry and galleys,” said Durbin. “There are more than 230 cruise ships operating around the world, generating millions of gallons of wastewater daily.”
Durbin said an average size cruise ship being built today can accommodate 3,000 passengers, yet regulations governing the cruise ship industry were primarily written in the 1970’s when cruise ships of this size did not exist. Additionally, the cruise ship lobby has exploited a loophole in the Clean Water Act and other laws to dump waste at sea with few restrictions, unless those ships are in Alaskan waters. In 2000, the senators from Alaska successfully passed legislation to safeguard Alaskan waters, which are now better-protected than all other American waters.
Durbin’s bill will establish stronger standards for cruise ships, prohibiting the discharge of sewage, gray water, and bilge water within 12 miles of shore. For discharges beyond that limit, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will be charged with writing standards based on the best available technologies. The Coast Guard will be responsible for managing 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 on the US Commission on Ocean Policy and the Environmental Protection Agency have confirmed the significant threat of cruise ship pollution to human health and aquatic environments.
“The area of the ocean under the United States’ jurisdiction spans 4.5 million square miles, more than any other single country. Our oceanic property is 23 percent larger than the nation’s land area, making our oceans the country’s largest public domain,” said Durbin. “A century ago President Theodore Roosevelt committed this nation to the critical goal of preserving our land. Today we have a similar responsibility to the seas that cover 70 percent of our planet.”
Durbin’s bill would also affect large cruise ships that ply their trade on the Great Lakes. “Cruise ships are a growing industry on the Great Lakes. We must enact this legislation to preserve the quality of the Great Lakes, our drinking water source and a very special ecosystem,” Durbin said.
The Great Lakes form the largest freshwater system in the world, holding one fifth of the fresh surface water supply of the world and ninety percent of the fresh surface water supply of the United States. The Great Lakes also serve as a drinking water source for approximately 40 million people in the United States and Canada.