Durbin fired up over coal-fired ferry

An EPA order would require the S.S. Badger to stop dumping coal ash in the lake by the end of 2014. Sen. Dick Durbin says it’s too little, too late.

March 25, 2013

(Wikimedia Commons/Zizmonz)
The S.S. Badger will sail for its 60th season in 2013. By the end of the 2014 season it will have to stop disposing of ash in Lake Michigan.

Illinois U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin is crying foul over a proposal by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that would allow a famous coal-fired ferry to keep running.

The 60-year-old S.S. Badger takes tourists back and forth across Lake Michigan a few hours north of Chicago. It’s also the only remaining ferry in the country that runs on coal.

“Every time that filthy scow goes across Lake Michigan, it dumps two tons of coal ash into our lake,” said Durbin Monday.

The EPA order, which must be approved by a court in Grand Rapids, would require the Badger to stop putting ash in the lake by the end of 2014. The EPA issued the consent decree in lieu of responding to a 2012 permit renewal request by the S.S. Badger, and the decree would charge the Lake Michigan Carferry Service $25,000 for violation of clean water standards in 2012.

“This consent decree offers the fastest and most certain path available to EPA to stop the discharge of coal ash from the Badger into Lake Michigan,” said EPA Region 5 Administrator Susan Hedman. “The enforcement agreement reduces the discharge of coal ash more quickly and with greater oversight than would occur during the appeal of a decision to issue or deny a permit – a process that often takes several years."

But Senator Durbin says the ship’s owners should have already fixed the problem.

“For ten years they’ve promised to clean it up, put in a diesel engine at least,” he said. “I am fed up with it."

The owners of the Badger declined to comment.

A press release says the ship will continue burning coal, but dispose of the ash on land through a “sophisticated ash retention system,” the details of which remain unknown.

—Lewis Wallace is a WBEZ Pritzker Fellow. Follow him @lewispants.