EPA may make final Badger decision soon

August 15, 2013
A family waves at the Badger as it prepares to dock in Ludington. The ship brings millions of dollars into the economy of Mason County.

A family waves at the Badger as it prepares to dock in Ludington. The ship brings millions of dollars into the economy of Mason County.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Justice may be close to making a final decision on the proposed consent decree with Lake Michigan Carferry. MCP has been told it is possible the decision will come next week. The decree, if passed, gives LMC until the end of the 2014 sailing season to eliminate the discharge of coal ash into Lake Michigan.

The 60-year-old Badger is the last of the coal burning ships on the Great Lakes. LMC has owned the Badger and its sister ships S.S. Spartan and S.S. City of Midland 41 since 1992. Since that time the Midland was converted into the barge Pere Marquette 41. The Spartan, the Badger’s sister ship, has not sailed since the late 1970s and is used mainly for spare parts.

Prior to LMC’s purchase of the bankrupt carferries, the ships were mainly used for rail car transport. Today, the Badger transports only cars and trucks. Thousands of passengers ride the ship annually. In addition, the ship is used by commercial truckers, which saves them from the expense and time of driving through Chicago. Overall, the Badger is responsible for bringing in millions of dollars into the economies of Ludington and Manitowoc, Wis.

LMC was authorized to discharge under the EPA’s 2008 National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Vessel General Permit. The permit covers discharges from many vessels into waters of the United States and contains specific provisions for discharges from large ferries. One of the provisions authorized the discharge of coal ash slurry from coal-fired propulsion systems until Dec. 19, 2012.

According to information on the EPA website, LMC had attempted to reach the 2012 deadline but was unable to. The result was the request for an individual National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit.

In March the EPA announced the lodging of the proposed consent decree. Following that announcement, a public comment period was held. During that time, the EPA received over 7,000 comments (you can read them here).

If approved, LMC will reduce its discharge of coal ash in 2013 and 2014 and will pay a $25,000 civil penalty for violating mercury water quality standards in 2012. LMC has contended that its mercury levels are below acceptable amounts.

One of the most outspoken opponents of the consent decree is Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois. MCP reported in 2012 the connection between Durbin and Sheldon Lubar, owner of Lake Express, the Badger’s only competitor (read the story here).

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