The SS Badger, the last U.S. coal-fired vessel, will finally meet EPA regulations and stop dumping coal ash into Lake Michigan when it resumes operations in 2015.
The SS Badger serves as a seasonal passenger and automobile ferry between Ludington, Michigan and Manitowoc, Wisconsin, and is the largest such vessel to operate on the lake. The ferry began operations in 1953 and has operated every May to October since. The SS Badger dumps approximately 500 tons of coal into Lake Michigan every operating season, according to National Geographic. For perspective, the Chicago Tribune notes that 89 tons of coal, limestone and iron waste are discharged annually by every other vessel in each of the great lakes combined.
In 2013, the EPA issued a consent decree to Lake Michigan Carferry, the owners and operators of the SS Badger, agreeing to a 15 percent reduction in ash dumps in 2013 and 2014, and to cease dumping coal ash into Lake Michigan starting in the 2015 season. Before reaching this agreement, however, the Lake Michigan Carferry attempted to evade regulation by lobbying for designation as a national landmark.
The coal ash the SS Badger has been dumping into Lake Michigan contains mercury, lead, arsenic and other heavy metals. The Chicago Tribune reported that mercury levels in coal ash from the SS Badger registered at 200 parts per trillion, while the federal EPA standard is 1.3 parts per trillion. The Huffington Post reports that as part of the original EPA agreement, Lake Michigan Carferry had to pay a $25,000 civil penalty.
When addressing the initial 2013 consent decree, Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) said in a statement, “The S.S. Badger, the filthiest ship on the Great Lakes, has been given two more years to dump hundreds of tons of dangerous coal ash into Lake Michigan. The millions of people who live, work and play in and around this beautiful Lake should be outraged that this filthy ship will continue to operate.”