The Legislature’s Natural Resources Committee heard two bills regarding cruise ship pollution in March. The topic is relatively new for the committee, and members wanted input from the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

Rep. Herb Adams’s (D-Portland) bill, LD 1271, was changed into a resolve directing the DEP to study the issues in two separate bills that had been introduced, Adams’s and one from Sen. Michael Brennan, and come up with a plan for regulating or prohibiting cruise ship pollution. The DEP would begin the study immediately. Its report is due November 1, 2003. If the bill passes the legislature and is signed, it could take effect before the 2004 cruise ship season.

“It is gratifying that the Natural Resources Committee wanted the issues dealt with quickly,” said Casco BayKeeper Joe Payne, Representing the Friends of Casco Bay.

According to Payne, the average cruise ship produces 250,000 gallons of gray water and 30,000 gallons of black water (sewage) and oily bilge water every day. The gray water may include effluent from other onboard activities such as photo development fluids and dry cleaning fluids, paint waste and dirty solvents, print shop wastes and batteries, among other things.

Payne said that on Sept. 5, 2002, the REGAL EMPRESS pumped oil and sewage into Portland harbor. The Coast Guard, interested in oil pollution, estimated that 200 gallons of oil were released. The amount of sewage that went into the harbor is not known.

Vessel sewage is concentrated, and the nitrogen and phosphorus nut-rients in it present major problems to sea life. These nutrients consume oxygen in the water leading to fish kills, abnormal algal growth, and declines in seaweeds, sea grasses, and corals. Plankton, the basis of marine food webs, is affected adversely as well.

In the coming months, the DEP will hold meetings in Bar Harbor and Portland with stakeholder groups, after which a small working group will study the issues and report back to the Natural Resources Committee.