Press Release

Howard Learner Joins Sen. Dick Durbin and Others in Call for Clear End to S.S. Badger Dumping Extensions

April 8, 2013


 Senator Urges Public to Submit Comments on Consent Decree Lodged Last Month


[CHICAGO] – U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today joined leading environmental organizations in urging Chicagoans to tell the Environmental Protection Agency to stand by its plans to stop the S.S. Badger’s polluting of Lake Michigan. Last month the EPA announced it had formally lodged a consent decree which would require the Badger to stop dumping coal ash into the lake by 2014.

“The S.S. Badger is the filthiest ship on the Great Lakes, and over the past few years it has exploited every opportunity to remain so,” Durbin said.  “The good news for my fellow Chicagoans: you can help end this.  The EPA is finally putting its foot down and giving the Badger two years to clean up its act.  For the next few weeks members of the public can share their thoughts on the specific requirements of this proposal.  I urge anyone concerned with the health of Lake Michigan to tell the Lake Michigan Carferry Service to stop badgering our lake!”

In 2011, the Chicago Tribune published a series of articles calling attention to the pollution from the Badger, which is owned by the Lake Michigan Carferry Service and is the only coal-fired ferry still operating on the Great Lakes.  Every year, as the ship brings people and cars between its home port of Ludington, MI to Manitowoc, WI, it dumps 509 tons of coal ash into Lake Michigan – more than the total waste dumped by the other 125 largest ships operating on the Great Lakes combined.  Coal ash contains arsenic, lead and mercury, all of which cause cancer when consumed in drinking water, cause serious damage to fish populations, and poison fish that are part of the food supply.  Last month’s consent decree would end the Badger’s coal ash dumping by 2014 and reduce its discharges each year until then.

“The Badger has been given over five years to do what every other ship has and convert to diesel fuel,” Durbin said.  “We as citizens need to make sure this new agreement has the strength to ward off any further delays.  Tell the EPA to refuse any more extensions for the Badger and require the ship to demonstrate real progress in cutting down its coal ash discharge.”

The public may submit comment on the proposal until April 26, after which the EPA will conduct a review and issue a final decision on the case.  Those seeking to do so can contact the U.S. Department of Justice through email or post.  Commenters should reference the case, United States v. Lake Michigan Trans-Lake Shortcut, Inc., d/b/a Lake Michigan Carferry Services and S.S. Badger, and instructions for submission are included at the end of this release.

In 2008, the Badger’s owners were granted a waiver from the EPA to continue operations while retrofitting the ship to run on diesel instead of coal.  Rather than complying, they sought numerous extensions of the waiver.  The Badger’s owners also negotiated an agreement with the EPA under which the ship was given a December 2012 deadline to install a new boiler that would prevent further coal ash dumping.  In an attempt to circumvent the terms of that agreement the Badger’s owners then attempted to secure both the designation of the ship as a National Historic Landmark and legislative language that would exempt “vessels of historic significance” from EPA regulation of discharge.  Durbin successfully blocked that language from being added to the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act last year.

“This consent decree should be strengthened, but it offers the quickest end to the SS Badger’s unconscionable dumping of coal ash into Lake Michigan,” said Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “The consent decree should be made clear:  the owners of the Badger must state and agree that there will be no more extensions, period.  It’s time for the SS Badger to clean up its operations and quit polluting our lake.”

“For as long as we have already been waiting for the Badger’s ash dumping in Lake Michigan to end, the United States must make clear to all that the new deadline is final. Since everyone agrees the solution is feasible, no more excuses,” said Joel Brammeier, President & CEO, Alliance for the Great Lakes.

“Lake Michigan is not an ashtray, it’s our source of drinking water,” said Jack Darin, Director of the Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter.   “Coal ash is dirty and toxic, and has no place on our Great Lakes and certainly not in our drinking water.   We support Senator Durbin and join his call for the SS Badger to clean up their act immediately and bring an end to the dirty and outdated practice of dumping their toxic waste in our water supply.”

“The Great Lakes are too important to be treated as a dumping ground for toxic mercury coal ash,” said Andy Buchsbaum, regional executive director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes office. “The proposed Consent Decree is a good first step, but it needs to be stronger. The millions of people who depend on the Great Lakes are counting on the EPA to stop this harmful practice to protect our environment and economy.”

“We used to think it was a good idea to treat hats with mercury. We learned that it was dangerous, and stopped. We’ve done the same thing with the once widespread dumping coal ash into the Great Lakes, but the folks supporting the Badger haven’t gotten the message,” said Harry Henderson, Midwest Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “The EPA is right to push back. We need to strengthen that consent decree and put an end to dumping toxic coal leftovers into the Lakes.”


Instructions for Submitting Public Comment:

Submitting via Email

Send to [email protected]

Include the case number, D.J. Ref. No. 90-5-1-1-10771, in the subject line

Submitting via Post

Send to the Assistant Attorney General, Environment and Natural Resources Division


P.O. Box 7611

Washington, DC  20044-7611