Durbin Introduces Clean Cruise Ship Act to Protect Oceans, Marine Life and Great Lakes

Bill would require cruise ship industry to comply with Clean Water Act standards

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL) today introduced legislation to protect the oceans and marine life by extending the Clean Water Act to appropriately regulate the millions of gallons of wastewater discharged in U.S. waters every day by cruise ships. Durbin’s bill, known as the Clean Cruise Ship Act would ban the release of raw, untreated sewage in U.S. waters, including the Great Lakes. Nearly identical legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives today by Representative Sam Farr (D-CA).


“The average cruise ship produces over 1.2 million gallons of wastewater every week,” Durbin said. “Today, there are more than 230 cruise ships operating around the world, generating millions of gallons of wastewater daily. Under the current system, these ships can directly dump their waste into our oceans and the Great Lakes with minimal oversight. Vacation cruises can be a wonderful way to see the world, but we cannot afford to leave the destruction of the oceans in the wake of these ships.”


Durbin’s Clean Cruise Ship Act would change the way cruise ships manage the removal of this harmful waste. The number of cruise ship passengers has been growing nearly twice as fast as any other mode of travel. In the U.S. alone, the numbers are approaching ten million passengers a year with some ships carrying 3,000 or more passengers. Each week, these ships produce massive amounts of waste: a single ship can produce over 200,000 gallons of human sewage; one million gallons of graywater from kitchens, laundry and showers; more than 10,000 gallons of sewage sludge; more than 130 gallons of hazardous waste and over 25,000 gallons of oily bilge water that collects in ship bottoms.


Currently, waste and other harmful pollutants are minimally regulated near the east and west coasts of the U.S. and can be dumped untreated three miles beyond the coast. These pollutants contaminate our waters resulting in beach closures, consumption of polluted fish and shellfish, risk to public health for people swimming in our oceans and damage to coral reefs (areas around Florida and Jamaica have lost nearly 90% of their living coral reefs). While some cruise ships industries are trying to reduce their environmental footprint, their efforts are not uniform. The federal standards proposed in Durbin’s Clean Cruise Ship Act would apply one set of requirements to all companies.


“The protection of U.S. waters is vital to our nation’s health and economy,” said Durbin. “The oceans not only support nearly 50% of all species of life on Earth, but food from the oceans also provide 20% of the animal protein and five percent of the total protein in the human diet. It is time to update the laws that protect our oceans, and urge adoption of the best available wastewater treatment technology at sea.”


Durbin’s Clean Cruise Ship Act would amend the Clean Water Act and protect U.S. waterways by:


• Regulating cruise ships under the EPA’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System for sewage, graywater and bilge water;


• Prohibiting the discharge of sewage, graywater, and bilge water within twelve miles of shore;


• Requiring that, outside of 12 miles, sewage, graywater, and bilge water be treated to reduce pollution to the levels currently achievable by advanced wastewater treatment systems;


• Prohibiting the dumping of sewage sludge, incinerator ash and hazardous waste in U.S. waters;


• Creating 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. In December 2008, the Environmental Protection Agency released a report which concluded that the “marine sanitation devices” ships are required to use in order to dump human body wastes and other toilet waste within three miles of shore were not working.


In addition to ocean-going vessels, Durbin’s bill would also strengthen discharge requirements for cruise ships operating in the Great Lakes. The bill would require that cruise ships operating on the Great Lakes abide by the same 12 miles prohibition on dumping waste. It also would require these ships to update their technology to treat sewage and graywater before it is discharged into the Great Lakes.


Durbin’s legislation is supported by a wide range of environmental groups including:

Friends of the Earth; Earthjustice; Oceana; Surfrider; Campaign to Safeguard America’s Waters; and Northwest Environmental Advocates.