Tag Archives: Howard Breen

Pump it don’t dump it

By Howard Breen

In May 2007 federal Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon was expected to approve regulations for the prevention of pollution from ships.

They would legally authorize discharges of sewage sludge, blackwater and greywater effluent, incinerator ash, oily bilge and ballast waters from large commercial passenger vessels plying Canada’s inshore waterways. They will even occur within marine protected areas such as our National Marine Conservation Areas.

Million of gallons of pulverized, sprayed-with-chlorine crap is not what Canadians want off their shores.

BC citizens are urged to let Minister Cannon know that his regulations will do little to prevent cruise ship pollution and that he and Environment Minister John Baird must act immediately to jointly announce an immediate prohibition on all cruise ship discharging in Canada’s marine protected areas.

Please contact Cannon and Baird and ask them to take a stronger position on marine pollution from shipping. Let them know that Canadians treasure their three oceans and want the the Conservative government to honour its commitments to safeguard the environment.

They should be doing everything they can to end the abysmal cruise ship fleet practice of using Canadian waters as their en route toilet between two U.S. ports of call.

And if they can’t achieve this goal with the current regulations — which bundle yachts and fishing boats together with large commercial shipping vessels — they should pledge to enact new national cruise ship legislation.

Canada should adopt a regime similar to Alaska’s. It has the best statutory independent compliance monitoring (Ocean Ranger program), vessel disclosure, and enforcement in the world.

Canada’s new regulation is too timid to end harmful sewage and other effluents and emissions from the international cruise fleet traveling along the labyrinthine coastline of B.C., through grey whale migratory routes, past approximately 650 salmon spawning rivers, and over 20 threatened and endangered marine species.

We insist that the cruise industry’s free pollution pass be immediately revoked and that zero discharge become the new operating principle in new federal cruise tourism legislation.

Here’s some background:

The Canadian Marine Advisory Council (CMAC), an industry dominated consultation group crafted with Transport Canada the Conservative government’s new shipping pollution prevention regulations which will now legally authorize cruise ships to discharge sewage sludge and effluent, greywater, incinerator ash, crushed garbage, oily bilge effluent, and medical liquid wastes in Canadian waters.

There is no explicit regulatory exclusion for zero discharge within or near Canada’s National Marine Conservation Areas, marine ecological reserves, and other marine protected areas, thus the integrity of the marine habitat and species of these areas are placed in undue harm by these new shipping regulations.

The new regulations are the marine effluent pollution equivalents of “intensity targets” that the Conservatives are proposing in its Green Plan for atmospheric greenhouse gas emissions. The cumulative discharge of a growing cruise fleet is not addressed.

Ocean pollution worldwide from cruise ships has fouled beaches and created a serious human health risk, contributed to lethal algae blooms, and the suffocation of sensitive ecosystems from hyper-nutrification. Where there is appropriate monitoring and enforcement in the U.S., the industry has among the highest felony fines ever imposed for recidivist environmental crimes.

Earlier in the spring of 2007 Cannon, in response to Senator Pat Carney and opposition critics in a Transport Canada parliamentary committee review, said stronger penalties and jail time awaited any cruise line that violated the new regulations. But the real statutory nature of these regulations undermines the Minister’s claims. For instance:

— Cruise Lines are not held to a ‘zero discharge’ precautionary operational principle, yet no other mode of public transit (rail, air, bus) is permitted to discharge human waste into its operating environment.

— The industry will remain largely self-reporting. Transport Canada vessel inspections are in such a sorry state that no pollution charge, let alone felony conviction, has ever occurred in Canada despite the industry chalking up some of the largest pollution felony fines in U.S. history. Most noteworthy, there is no provision for ‘in operation’ inspections at sea, only what vessel owners want inspectors to see while the vessel is moored in port.

— Cruise Lines are not expected to fit their vessels with holdings tanks large enough to permit their vessels to hold sewage sludge for shore side pump-out. Since most of the B.C. leg of the Alaska-bound route is less than twelve miles from shore, it is safe to presume that thousands of tons of sewage sludge will blanket the route each cruise season.

— In exemptory practice, vessels with so-called advanced waste systems can discharge once outside port. These vessel owners claim to treat sewage adequately for discharge. Transport Canada provides no data whatsoever to Canadians to substantiate these claims, and Environment Canada provides no studies to reassure Canadians that vessel discharges do not cause harm to sensitive habitat and species at risk.

— Provision for adequate disposal of certain contaminants, such as incinerator ash, seem to be absent from the regulations though vessels routinely burn medical, galley and other ship garbage, paint can residues, and other ship waste at sea.

— Cruise ship issues, such ocean pollution, plans for Canadian taxpayers to help finance the construction of a federal cruise ship terminal and provision of a fleet-wide, fuel subsidy and possible emission exemption from the Kyoto Treaty are certain to become hot topics in the next federal election.

(Howard Breen is former Environment Committee Chair of the Gulf Islands Alliance)