Durbin Statement on Possible National Historic Landmark Status for S.S. Badger

Senator worked with EPA and environmental groups for nearly 4 years to stop S.S. Badger from dumping coal ash into Lake Michigan

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] - U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today released the following statement after being assured by the Environmental Protection Agency that, a National Historic Landmark designation would not affect EPA’s ability to implement any of its environmental regulations related to the S.S. Badger.  Earlier today, the Department of the Interior announced the S.S. Badger would be designated a National Historic Landmark almost a year after the ship’s owners completed the necessary steps to prevent coal ash dumping in Lake Michigan.


“I was pleased that after years of hard work by environmental groups and the Environmental Protection Agency, the dirtiest ship on the Great Lakes finally cleaned up its act,” said Durbin. “Now that the S.S. Badger has received National Historic Landmark status, it still bears the legal responsibility and should provide a true accounting of the historic and disastrous environmental damage that this vessel caused by dumping tons of coal ash into Lake Michigan. Protecting Lake Michigan—the primary source of drinking water for millions of people in and around Chicago—and the economic and environmental impact it has on our state has always been one of my top priorities.”


Durbin worked with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and groups – such as the Environmental Law & Policy Center, the Alliance for the Great Lakes, the National Wildlife Federation, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Sierra Club – for four years to stop the ship from dumping coal ash into Lake Michigan


Chicago Tribune Story


In 2011, the Chicago Tribune published a series of articles by Michael Hawthorne calling attention to the pollution from the S.S. Badger, which is owned by the Lake Michigan Carferry Service and is the only coal-fired ferry still operating on the Great Lakes.  As the ship travelled from its home port of Ludington, MI, to Manitowoc, WI prior to the end of the 2014 season, it was dumping 509 tons of coal ash into Lake Michigan each year – a quantity greater than the total waste dumped annually by the 125 other largest ships operating on the Great Lakes. The coal ash contains arsenic, lead, and mercury, all of which can cause cancer when consumed in drinking water, cause serious damage to fish populations, and poison fish that are part of our food supply.


Objection to National Historic Landmark Designation


In late 2011, Durbin opposed efforts to designate the S.S. Badger as a National Historic Landmark, thus exempting it from the long-standing EPA regulation of discharge.  An original version of a 2012 bill to reauthorize the US Coast Guard – the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act – included this designation.  Durbin successfully lobbied his colleagues to strip the language from the bill before it was passed by the full House of Representatives.  The revised bill passed the Senate and was signed into law by the President clean of any language that would have allowed the S.S. Badger to continue dumping.


Opposition to Delay Attempts


In 2012, Durbin opposed efforts by the owners of the S.S. Badger to secure a new permit based on a proposed a plan to convert the S.S. Badger to liquefied natural gas.  While the technology was in development, the ship would have been allowed to continue dumping coal ash into Lake Michigan under the new permit.  Shortly after Durbin declared his opposition, the S.S. Badger’s owners abandoned their plans for the liquefied natural gas conversion.


Stricter Standards in EPA Consent Decree


In March 2013, the EPA formally lodged a consent decree requiring the S.S. Badger to stop dumping coal ash into Lake Michigan by the end of the 2014 season.  After reviewing the decree, Durbin submitted comments with the Department of Justice requesting stronger discharge regulations to reduce the amount of mercury dumped into Lake Michigan and double the penalties for non-compliance.


Later that year, the EPA announced a revised consent decree that required the owners of the S.S. Badger to use a cleaner type of coal that produces less ash – a move that led to a 50% reduction in the amount of mercury dumped by the boat.  The owners were also required to report all discharges of coal ash.  The revised consent decree increased the penalty for failing to meet that deadline from $3,000 per day to $6,000 per day.