For years, Sen. Dick Durbin has been trying to shut down or clean up the S.S. Badger, the quaint car ferry that travels back and forth between Ludington, Mich., and Manitowoc, Wis., during the summer months, allowing travelers to the Upper Midwest and the northern Plains to avoid driving through Chicago. The 60-year-old Badger is the last coal-fired ship operating on the Great Lakes, and dumps its coal ash into Lake Michigan.
Durbin tried to drydock the Badger, but its owners finally worked out a consent decree with the Environmental Protection Agency, which will force the ship to install an ash retention system by 2015, and reduce dumping in the meantime. Durbin wants to ensure the Badger discharges as little ash as possible in that time, so he sent out this action alert to supporters, under the title “Stop Badgering Our Lake“:
Lake Michigan is under attack from a 60 year-old, coal-fired car ferry – the S.S. Badger. From May through October, as the Badger steams across the Lake, it dumps over 5 tons of coal ash every day. That adds up to 770 tons of coal ash being dumped directly into our beautiful Lake Michigan each year. In the 60 years the S.S. Badger has been in operation, it has discharged an estimated 46,200 tons of toxic coal ash.
Now, the EPA is finally putting its foot down and giving the S.S. Badger two years to clean up its operation—starting now. The EPA has proposed a consent decree that allows the Badger to continue operating until 2014—but the ferry is required to reduce the amount of coal ash it dumps every year and make real steps towards cleaning up its act.
So what can you do to help ensure that the Badger stops dumping coal ash into Lake Michigan and endangering the health of millions?
You can tell the EPA that it’s time for the S.S. Badger to end their excuses, clean up their act, and take real steps to stop dumping coal ash.
The EPA is asking members of the public to share their thoughts on the specific requirements of this new agreement during a 30-day public comment period ending April 26, 2013. The comments should refer to United States v. Lake Michigan Trans-Lake Shortcut, Inc., D.J. Ref. No. 90-5-1-1-10771.
You can submit your comment by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Or by U.S. mail: Assistant Attorney General, U.S. DOJ-ENRD, P.O. Box 7611, Washington, DC 20044-7611
I rode the Badger in 2005, and had the chance to visit the engine room, where the coal is shoveled into furnaces.
Bill Kulk, the engineer, was waiting at the bottom of a narrow, stainless-steel stairway, tending the boiler as Mike Mulligan tended his steamshovel. A coal engine may be a Steam Age relic, but Bill was proud to keep it burning. The Badger began its life as a railroad ferry, he explained. Railroads carried plenty of coal, "so you got free fuel, delivered free. That’s a pretty good argument. And coal’s looking pretty good these days, as expensive as diesel is."
Now the coal arrived in dump trucks – 60 tons a day, enough to fuel one lap of the lake. Below the engine room was the ship’s own Hades – the furnace, where the coal was burned. It was inhabited by only two men- the coal passers, whose job was to stoke the fire and shovel away the ash, their lamp-lit, subaquatic chamber was as dark as the Kentucky caves where the coal had been mined.
One of the coal passers, whose name was Lonnie, pointed at a vent in the oven-thick metal. Inside, the fire was bright orange, the last stop on the spectrum before white. It seethed at two thousand degrees. The furnace was lit in April, and burned until the last voyage was over.
"It gets up to a hunnerd'n'ten degrees in August," Lonnie said. "You’ve got to drink a half-gallon of water every four-hour shift. You lose weight. You sweat Lonnie didn’t mind the heat. Both his parents had worked the Badger, his father as a deckhand, his mother as a housekeeper. He wanted to do the same, even if it meant shoveling coal. The ship was the pride of Ludington, his hometown.
"This is World War II material," Lonnie bragged. "Built in 1953. It’s a nice old boat. It’s nice to be part of it."
That may not be how it's seen in Chicago, but that's how it's seen in Ludington.