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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, October 27, 2002

Law needed as our cruise business booms

Gov. Ben Cayetano's decision to negotiate a "memorandum of understanding" for environmental protections with the cruise industry is a good first step, but, like many interested parties, we continue to feel these rules require the force of law.

With other sectors of our visitor industry struggling, it has been a plus that the cruise ship business here appears to have been booming. We support that growth, and have urged the state to speed its effort to upgrade harbor and pier facilities to accommodate ocean visitors.

But the growth of the cruise industry presents serious environmental and even social policy issues that the state must address.

Today's cruise industry is far more environmentally sophisticated and careful than even a few years ago. Advanced engineering on the power plants and high-tech environmental controls make the new generation of vessels much more clean and "green" than earlier ships.

And the industry has become aware that it is in its own best interests to be environmentally squeaky clean. After all, it is selling cruises in Hawai'i's beautiful waters and climate; why would it want to pollute them with uncontrolled exhaust or dumping of garbage or waste?

Still, these liners are floating "cities" that must be subject to strict, measurable and enforceable controls.

There are two ways of accomplishing this. The first is a memorandum of understanding between the industry and officials of the ports where they call. Such memorandums are in place in Florida, for instance, and they dictate what will be done with sewage and garbage, how exhaust will be managed and the like.

The other model, used in Alaska, is based on a law that sets out standards for the industry in Alaskan waters.

The industry understandably prefers the memorandum approach, arguing it is more flexible for constantly changing conditions and can be better tailored to unique conditions in a particular cruising area.

From Hawai'i's perspective, a law similar to that in place in Alaska would seem to make more sense. It creates an enforcement mechanism that would stand behind whatever rules and regulations are put in place.

Unfortunately, the state has proceeded to adopt unilaterally the memorandum approach. It's certainly a step in the right direction, but it's not legally binding and does not carry any penalties.

Our pristine environment is too sensitive for that approach. One environmentalist suggested that Alaska's more stringent laws might encourage cruise lines to send their newer, cleaner-running ships to Alaska, while "Hawai'i might get the second-best."

It's far better to have the memorandum in place than nothing at all, of course. But the next Legislature should seriously consider writing the best parts of the memorandum into state statute.