Sen. Durbin stands up for Lake Michigan

The S.S. Badger (Photo courtesy of

Congress may not be popular with the electorate these days, but it’s important to note that some lawmakers are doing their jobs well.

Today we recognize and applaud U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, who is trying to end a coal-fired steamship’s  longstanding practice of using Lake Michigan as a landfill for toxic coal ash.

For decades, the S.S. Badger has dumped its toxic coal ash into the lake every time it makes a crossing. The ferry, which sails between Ludington, Mi., and Manitowoc, Wis., dumps about 500 tons of coal ash laced with mercury and other toxic metals into Lake Michigan every year.

Four years ago, the company that owns the Badger agreed to end the ship’s  polluting ways in 2012. But the firm reneged on that agreement when it didn’t receive a $14 million federal grant to convert to diesel power.

Now the Badgers’ owners are engaged in a high-stakes bid to keep federal regulators at bay so the ferry can use the lake as a landfill indefinitely. Go here to read more about this cynical effort to avoid federal regulations.

Republican lawmakers from Michigan and Wisconsin snuck a provision into a Coast Guard reauthorization bill that would prevent the EPA from halting the ferry’s loathsome coal ash dumping.

The ferry’s owners also asked the National Park Service to designate the 410-foot ship a National Historic Landmark. Such a move would prevent the federal government from forcing the ferry to convert to diesel power and — presto — allow the ship to continue dumping coal ash into Lake Michigan.

Sen. Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, is fighting that designation.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Sen. Durbin sent strongly worded letters to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Sen. Jay Rockefeller, chairman of the committee that oversees the Coast Guard. Durbin opposed special exemptions that would allow the S.S. Badger car ferry to keep dumping at least 509 tons of toxic coal ash into the lake every year.

“We cannot let Historic Landmark status be used to evade the federal regulations we rely on to protect public health and the environment,” Durbin wrote to Salazar, who has the final say on the Badger’s application. “This Great Lake cannot take any more toxic dumping, no matter how historic or quaint the source may be.”

Amen, senator. It’s high time the Badger stop using the lake as a dump site.






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