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(Senate - May 24, 2012)

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[Page S3619]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office []

                    RECOGNIZING THE S.S. ``BADGER''

  Mr. DURBIN. Mr. President, recently Chicagoans were asked in a poll 
what asset of their great city they valued most. By a large margin, 
they chose Lake Michigan.
  Lake Michigan is the primary source of drinking water for more than 
10 million people--not just in my home State of Illinois but also in 
Wisconsin, Indiana, and Michigan.
  The lake is also part of the $7 billion per year Great Lakes fishing 
industry. Millions of people visit Lake Michigan for its recreational 
opportunities like swimming, kayaking, boating, or just taking a walk 
along the beach. It is a beautiful lake.
  Unfortunately, we are faced with a threat to the health of our Great 
  This week, on Thursday, May 24, the coal-fired car-ferry S.S. Badger 
will begin its 60th year sailing on Lake Michigan.
  Many people have fond memories of the Badger, steaming from its 
homeport of Ludington, MI, to Manitowoc, WI, every summer. But they 
need to be reminded of this: It is the last coal-fired ferry in the 
United States, and every year it dumps another 500 tons of coal ash 
into Lake Michigan. Think about that for a moment--500 tons of coal ash 
every year since the 1950s. What must the bottom of the lake look like?
  The owner of the Badger insists that the coal ash is basically just 
sand, but we know better. Scientists are concerned about coal ash 
because it contains chemicals like arsenic, lead, and mercury.
  Once in the lake, these chemicals enter the food chain through the 
water we drink and the fish we eat. Then they accumulate in our bodies 
and can cause cancer and neurological damage. In fact, we already are 
facing problems from mercury contamination of the fish that are part of 
our food supply. How can we continue to accept behavior that will just 
make this problem worse?
  If the Badger's owners had only recently found that dumping coal was 
a problem, it might be OK to cut them some slack. But the Badger's 
owners have a long history of avoiding the steps needed to clean up 
their act.
  Most other vessels on the Great Lakes converted from coal to diesel 
fuel long ago but not the Badger.
  In 2008, conversion to a new fuel was way overdue. But a waiver was 
placed into EPA's vessel general permit to allow the Badger to continue 
dumping coal ash through 2012. I think that was 5 years too many of 
toxic dumping. But to make matters worse, the Badger's owners still 
have not made a reasonable effort to stop dumping coal ash into the 
lake. Instead, they are doing everything they can to avoid switching to 
a new fuel.
  Last fall, the Badger was nominated to be a national historic 
landmark, and an amendment was added to House Coast Guard and Maritime 
Transportation Act to exempt all vessels of historic significance from 
environmental regulation.
  The national historic landmark designation was created to commemorate 
properties that have special significance in American history. The 
designation has been appropriately used to protect sites including the 
home of President Abraham Lincoln in Springfield, IL, and the S.S. 
Milwaukee Clipper, a retired steamship in Muskegon, MI. The national 
historic landmark designation was never intended to allow polluters to 
avoid complying with Federal regulations that protect our health and 
the environment.
  I have urged Interior Secretary Salazar to oppose the designation of 
the Badger as a national historic landmark. I also ask my fellow 
Senators to join me in opposing language in the House Coast Guard and 
Maritime Transportation Act that would exempt ``vessels of historic 
significance'' from EPA regulation.
  After I came out in opposition to this strategy, the Badger's owner 
came to Washington to talk to me.
  He mentioned that he was applying for an EPA permit to continue 
dumping coal ash while he pursues conversion of the Badger to run on 
liquefied natural gas. He would like to make the Badger the greenest 
vessel on the Great Lakes. That would be terrific, but it just isn't a 
realistic option right now. Today, there are few suppliers of liquefied 
natural gas. There are no shipyards in the United States qualified to 
convert passenger vessels to run on liquefied natural gas. And it would 
take close to $50 million just to develop the infrastructure needed to 
fuel the Badger at the dock.
  One day, all the boats on the Great Lakes might be powered by natural 
gas. But it isn't a realistic plan for the Badger to stop dumping coal 
ash. It is just another delaying tactic, when the Badger's owners were 
given a deadline 5 years ago.
  The Badger has blatantly avoided complying with current EPA 
regulations. We cannot reward the owners for their negligence with 
permanent statutory protection from EPA regulation.
  This is more than a car ferry with a venerable tradition. This is a 
vessel that generates and dumps 4 tons of coal ash laced with mercury, 
lead, and arsenic into Lake Michigan every day. This Great Lake cannot 
take any more toxic dumping, no matter how historic or quaint the 
source may be.