Senator Berta Gardner

February 19, 2013

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Serving Midtown, Spenard, and UMed

State Capitol Bldg. Rm 417
Juneau, AK 99801
Call Me: 1-800-331-4930

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Rollback of the Clean Water Initiative

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

Fisherman Steve Shrum sends in photos of fish with scales being eaten off by disease.
Fisherman Steve Shrum sends in photos of fish with scales being eaten off by disease. He sees more cases of these fish at the height of cruise ship season and far fewer when there aren’t cruise ships in Alaska waters.

Yes, today the legislature finished the job of rolling back the final piece, effectively voiding the “Clean Water Initiative” passed by Alaskans in 2006.

I approached the issue with appropriate anxiety about moving against the clear instructions of the people, but recognizing also that we have the responsibility to correct errors in policy, I wanted to keep an open mind as I studied it.

I met with representatives from the cruise ship industry, with advocates of the original initiative and with colleagues. I spoke with a constituent, who is an environmental scientist and an expert in fish biology, who thought I should support the bill. Finally, I read every one of the flood of emails that came to me on the subject. Those emails in favor of HB 80 came almost 100% from the people affiliated with the cruise ship and tourism industry. Those against passage were overwhelmingly from everyday Alaskans. They were appalled at rolling back clean water standards and about risking our pristine waters through the use of mixing zones. Fishermen could not believe that Alaskan lawmakers would so quickly risk the health of one of our most precious resources: our fish stocks.

What I’m personally concerned about most is the precedent we are setting in overturning this citizen’s initiative. My fellow caucus members and I offered amendments in an effort to rein in the bill. We asked to retain the standards with an extension of the timeline for cruise ship compliance. We asked that the information collected on discharges be posted online for public access. We asked for a prohibition on discharges in waters designated by the legislature as game refuges, critical habitat areas, or state marine parks. Our amendments were voted down, largely on caucus lines. We had reasonable, commonsense ideas that would have kept some pressure on cruise ships to operate at high standards in terms of wastewater processing and discharge. Not only are we effectively overturning this initiative, but we’ve also given the industry carte blanche to dispose of their waste in a manner inconsistent with clear instructions from Alaskan voters.

I’m not expert in the field of water quality, but the speed with which this bill moved through the process, and the misrepresentations about the “Science Panel” which had been told that their draft report would not be used as the basis for legislation, has put me on edge. Let’s keep the “citizen” in our “citizen legislature” and not set a new standard for ourselves that overturning the will of the voters for the convenience of a rich and powerful industry is the right thing to do.

I’m Berta and I’m still listening,

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact my office

signed: Berta

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