Coal-burning S.S. Badger gets a two-season reprieve

Badger source Wikimedia CommonsMARCH 22, 2013 — S.S. Badger, the last large coal-burning steam ferry in the U.S., will be able to keep operating, and dumping coal ash into Lake Michigan, until the end of its 2014 sailing season, if a court approves a settlement agreed by Lake Michigan Carferry and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Announcing the lodging of the proposed consent decree, the EPA said that it requires Lake Michigan Carferry Service, Inc. (LMC) of Ludington, Mich., to eliminate the discharge of coal ash into Lake Michigan by the end of the 2014 sailing season.

In 2013 and 2014, the ferry will reduce its discharge of coal ash and LMC will pay a $25,000 civil penalty for violating mercury water quality standards in 2012, according to the proposed consent decree.

"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."

The S.S. Badger was authorized to discharge coal ash under the 2008 National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Vessel General Permit. A permit provision authorized that discharge until December 2012. The Badger is the last coal-fired ship operating on the Great Lakes.

Last year, LMC applied for an individual NPDES permit to allow the Badger to continue discharging coal ash into Lake Michigan. In light of the settlement announced today, EPA does not plan to make a decision on that permit application.

DOJ and EPA will accept and consider comments on the proposed consent decree during a 30-day public comment period, to be announced shortly.

Lake Michigan Carferry said that the agreement is the product of a lengthy process of working with the EPA to find the best solution, and includes the installation of a sophisticated ash retention system.

"The resolution of this issue has taken far longer than we had hoped, but the end result has been worth the effort," said Bob Manglitz, President and CEO of Lake Michigan Carferry. "This agreement will save the jobs of our 200 plus employees as well as many other jobs in the states of Michigan and Wisconsin. We appreciate the support we have received from our elected representatives in Michigan and Wisconsin and the encouragement of the thousands of people who have supported our efforts to keep the Badger sailing."

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