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EPA Bans Big Ships from Dumping Sewage Near California Coast

Cruise ships and large commercial vessels will be banned from dumping any kind of sewage — even highly filtered wastewater — along California’s coast within three miles of shore, under new rules by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the San Jose Mercury reports.

The rules, which were announced Wednesday at a news conference in San Francisco, give California among the strictest laws in the nation limiting pollution from large ships.

“This is going to cover the entire California coastline,” state Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) told the San Jose Mercury. “Oceangoing vessels should not consider our coastline a place for dumping sewage.”

In 2005, Simitian wrote a bill that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed banning sewage discharges in state waters from cruise ships and commercial ships larger than 300 gross tons.

That bill — the first of its kind in the nation — made it illegal for such ships to discharge oily bilge water, “gray water” from sinks and showers and other hazardous waste. But a key provision that also banned sewage releases could not legally take effect until EPA gave permission under the federal Clean Water Act.

Simitian said the sewage ban will go far to keep cruise ships, which he called “floating cities,” from contaminating coastal waters. “Ask yourself whether you’d like to have a community of three or four thousand people dumping their waste on your doorstep,” he told the Los Angeles Times.

But the nation’s largest association of cruise lines said on Wednesday that the ban won’t affect its vessels because the ships already follow a non-discharge policy as stringent as the federal ban.

“It will have no impact on our members,” said Michael Crye, of the Cruise Line International Association told the Los Angeles Times.

Crye said major cruise lines operating off the coast of California have not discharged sewage within three miles of the coast since the state passed the coast contamination law in 2005. Instead, he said, ships store the sewage in large holding tanks until it is discharged at municipal wastewater treatment facilities or eventually emptied offshore.

But the new rule doesn’t just target cruise liners. Large container vessels bringing goods into port also would be covered by the regulation.

The new rule allows the U.S. Coast Guard to cite vessels for violations and applies to all sewage discharges, treated or not.

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