Dumping the Coal Ash-Dumping SS Badger
On the morning of May 24 in Ludington, Michigan the SS Badger will begin the process of lighting her coal-fired boilers to begin what is likely to be her last navigation season on Lake Michigan. By 9:00 am the 1953-built converted rail-car ferry will depart Ludington to chug toward Manitowoc, Wisconsin, which it should reach some four hours later.
Over the course of that day the ship’s coal-burning engines will consume some 55-70 tons of bituminous coal. Most of those hydro-carbons will be puffed into the atmosphere in the form of greenhouse gases. At least 3.8 tons of residual ash will be mixed with Lake Michigan’s fresh water and jetted directly into the lake.
That coal ash will contain, among other things, some amounts of lead, mercury, arsenic and selenium. Over the course of the ship’s May-October navigation season it will dump more than 500 tons of this toxic ash into Lake Michigan, a body of water that many consider to be the crown jewel of the Great Lakes estuary. During its spring-to-fall season, federal records show, the amount of coal ash the SS Badger dumps into the Lake Michigan far exceeds the coal, iron and limestone waste jettisoned by all 125 other big ships on all of the Great Lakes combined.
Why do the owners of the SS Badger, Lake Michigan Carferry (LMC), do this? The simple answer to that complex question seems to be “profit”. The SS Badger is an old ship and was relatively inexpensive to purchase when its days as a rail car ferry were up. Coal is a relatively cheap fuel and a deal with Manitowoc Power makes that fuel nearly as economical as it is dirty. Adult passengers and cars each pay a $74 fee making a normal trip across for a couple and their vehicle come in at $222.
We have no problem whatsoever with the SS Badger’s owners turning a handsome profit. We do have a problem with ship owners who annually dump 500 tons of coal ash containing toxic chemicals into Lake Michigan. We are not alone in this sentiment. In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has told LMC that the end of 2012 will be the end of this practice. Interestingly enough, the State of Michigan also has a “polluter pay” law that would clearly require the LMC to be financially responsible for a coal ash dump containing harmful chemicals on land. If that statute were to be applied to the coal ash toxins LMC has been dumping into the Lake, and some say it should, the amount of financial liability would boggle the mind.
For four years now, LMC has tried any number of lobbying efforts and PR gambits in order to keep dumping coal ash into the Lake “while other options can be explored”. On the subject of dumping coal ash into the Lake Michigan, there are no options. That outdated and discredited practice must come to a stop this year. If LMC wants to “explore other options” from LNG to nuclear power to returning to sail it will have to do so without dumping any coal ash into our Great Lakes.
Monday, May 7, 2012 at 06:54AM
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