December 20, 2012

Durbin: No Special Exemptions for S.S. Badger

Senator urges coal-fired ferry to stop efforts to dump another 600 plus tons of ash into Lake Michigan next year

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today on the floor of the Senate criticized the operation of the coal-fired S.S. Badger which has dumped more than 35,400 tons of coal ash – enough to coat the entire floor of Lake Michigan in a 2.5 inch thick layer of ash – since it began running 1953.  Earlier this week, Durbin spoke with the Region 5 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator, Susan Hedman, to urge the agency to deny a permit that would allow the S.S. Badger to continue operations without having to comply with long-standing EPA regulations. 

 

“Chicagoans were asked in a poll what asset of their great city they valued most.   By a large margin they chose Lake Michigan,” said Durbin.  “Unfortunately, the health of our Great Lake is threatened every summer when a coal-burning ferry dumps tons of coal ash into the Lake every day all summer long.  The owner of the Badger insists that the coal ash is basically just sand, but we know better.  Scientists are concerned about coal ash because it contains chemicals like arsenic, lead, and mercury.  We know how dangerous mercury contamination in fish is to human health.  It is time for the SS Badger to stop adding to the problem and clean up the operation.”

 

Earlier this month, Congress approved a bill to reauthorize the US Coast Guard – the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act – which due to Durbin’s opposition was clean of any language that would have allowed the S.S. Badger to continue dumping over 600 tons of coal ash into Lake Michigan each year.  The original House bill included language that would have exempted the S.S. Badger from long-standing Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulation of discharge.  The new version passed by the Senate did not include that language.

Full Text of Durbin’s remarks as prepared are below.

 

S.S. Badger

December 20th, 2012

 

Chicagoans were asked in a poll what asset of their great city they valued most.   By a large margin they chose Lake Michigan. 

 

Lake Michigan is the primary source of drinking water for more than 10 million people -- not just in my home state of Illinois, but also in Wisconsin, Indiana, and Michigan.

 

The Great Lakes support a multi-billion dollar fishing industry that is important to dozens of local economies.

 

Millions of people visit Lake Michigan recreationally -- swimming, kayaking, boating, or just taking a walk along the beach. 

 

It’s a beautiful lake. 

 

Unfortunately, the health of our Great Lake is threatened every summer when a coal-burning ferry dumps tons of coal ash into the Lake every day all summer long. 

 

S.S. Badger

 

Many people have fond memories of the S.S. Badger, steaming from its homeport of Ludington, MI, to Manitowoc, WI, every summer. 

 

But they need to be reminded of this – the Badger is the last coal-fired ferry in the United States for a reason.

 

Every year, based on their own estimates, the Badger dumps another 600 plus tons of coal ash into Lake Michigan. 

 

Think about that -- 600 tons of coal ash every year since the 1953.  What must the bottom of the lake look like?

 

In the 59 years the SS Badger has been in operation, it has discharged a conservative estimate of 35,400 tons of coal ash.

 

That’s enough to coat the entire floor of Lake Michigan with a layer of ash at least 2.5 inches thick. 

 

A recent article in the Chicago Tribune compared the amount of coal ash discharge from the Badger to the dry cargo residue discharged by all other vessels operating on Lake Michigan.

 

50 U.S. ships and 70 Canadian ships are responsible for a combined total of 89 tons of solid wastes annually.

 

That means that the Badger, by itself, is responsible for almost 6 times more waste than 125 other vessels combined -- even when using the more conservative estimate of 509 tons of coal ash per season.

 

Yesterday, the EPA Vessel General Permit that has enabled the coal-fired car-ferry S.S. Badger to discharge coal ash into Lake Michigan expired.

 

The owner of the Badger insists that the coal ash is basically just sand, but we know better.  Scientists are concerned about coal ash because it contains chemicals like arsenic, lead, and mercury.

 

Once in the lake, these chemicals enter the food chain through the water we drink and the fish we eat. 

 

Then, they accumulate in our bodies and are associated with cancer, reproductive and neurological damage.

 

We know how dangerous mercury contamination in fish is to human health. 

 

It is time for the SS Badger to stop adding to the problem and clean up the operation.

 

Avoiding Regulation

 

If the Badger’s owners had only recently realized that dumping coal was a problem, it might be ok to cut them some slack.  But the Badger’s owners have a long history of avoiding the steps needed to clean up their act.

 

Most other vessels on the Great Lakes converted from coal to diesel fuel before the Badger made its first voyage.

 

In 2008 -- when conversion to a new fuel was way overdue -- the Bush Administration granted the ferry a waiver to continue dumping coal ash through 2012.

 

That was five years too many of toxic dumping.  But to make matters worse, the Badger’s owners still have not made a reasonable effort to stop dumping coal ash into the lake.

 

Now they are attempting to persuade the EPA to approve a permit allowing them 5 more years of trashing Lake Michigan. 

 

Natural Gas Conversion

 

After I came out in opposition to another 5-year extension, the Badger’s owner came to Washington to talk to me.

 

He said he was applying for an EPA permit to continue dumping coal ash while he pursues conversion of the Badger to run on liquefied natural gas. 

 

He would like to make the Badger the greenest vessel on the Great Lakes.  That would be terrific.  But it just isn’t a realistic option right now.

 

Today, there are few suppliers of liquefied natural gas.  There are no shipyards in the United States qualified to convert passenger vessels to run on liquefied natural gas.

 

And it would take close to $50 million just to develop the infrastructure needed to transport fuel to the dock for the Badger. 

 

One day, all the boats on the Great Lakes might be powered by natural gas.  But that isn’t a realistic plan right now or within the next few years.   

 

It’s just another delaying tactic.  The Badger’s owners were given a deadline to convert the ship’s fuel or dispose of the ash in a responsible way.  They were given this deadline five years ago!

 

The Badger has blatantly avoided complying with current EPA regulations. 

 

Conclusion

 

This is more than a car ferry with a venerable tradition. 

 

This is a vessel that generates and dumps five tons of coal ash laced with mercury, lead, and arsenic into Lake Michigan every day.  

 

This Great Lake cannot take any more toxic dumping, no matter how historic or quaint the source may be. 

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