The owners of the S.S. Badger, the last coal fired ship on the Great Lakes are at it again. Since 2008, they have known that their permit to dump over 500 tons of coal ash annually into Lake Michigan would be expiring this month. Yet they have done nothing to resolve the issue. Instead they have asked the EPA for a permit extension while they study a possible conversion to Liquefied Natural Gas.
Now, according to the New York Times the owners of the ferry have enlisted friendly congressmen to bury in a Coast Guard re-authorization bill now in final negotiations between the House and the Senate:
Curious language saying a “qualified vessel” shall continue to operate for its entire lifetime, “without regard to any expiration dates” on the permit it operates on.”
Since the S.S. badger was placed on National Register of Historic Places by the U.S. Department of the Interior in 2009, the language in this bill would allow it to continue to dump over 4 tons of coal ash per day into Lake Michigan without a permit.
While the re-authorization bill does not reference the S.S. Badger by name, the enumerated qualifications — including that it be nominated for or on the list of National Historic Landmarks — apply to only one vessel, the Badger. As the Times points out, Republicans supposedly put an end to special-interest language slipped into bills to benefit projects or employers in their districts when they took control of the House last year. However, the sponsors of that language, two Republican representatives, Tom Petri of Wisconsin and Bill Huizenga of Michigan, say it is not an earmark because it does not mandate the expenditure of any federal money.
I may not be able to parse the nuance of congressional political speak as to what is or isn’t an earmark, but to me, the James Whitcomb Riley’s adage regarding looking and walking like a duck applies. Here is a piece of legislation that is slipped into a Coast Guard re-authorization bill that only applies to one entity and that would overrule the EPA permitting process. To me, that’s an earmark. The hypocritical argument that it is not an earmark because no federal dollars are expended does not take into account the cost of cleaning up the 500 tons of coal ash that the Badger dumps each year.
Apparently at least one Senator, Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, agrees with me. The Times quoted him as saying:
“If it walks like an earmark and talks like an earmark, it’s an earmark.”
Hopefully the Senate will stand firm and prevent the S.S. Badger from making a mockery of the EPA permitting process and finally take the steps necessary to either store the 4 tons of coal ash they create each day until it can be offloaded or convert to diesel power as have it’s competitors. No business should be protected from competition and allowed to continually pollute the Great Lakes because of it’s historic nature. We didn’t know better, or have better options than coal when the S.S. Badger first sailed on Lake Michigan. We know better now.
Let’s hope the Senate does the right thing and scuttles the offensive language.