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Mr. PETRI. I thank my colleague for offering the amendment, and I rise in support of it.
Mr. Chair, this amendment recognizes the unique and special character of historic ships and would keep in place the current EPA vessel discharge program for historic ferries.
I am particularly interested in this because the SS Badger, which operates on Lake Michigan between Ludington, Michigan, and Manitowoc, Wisconsin, in my Congressional district, is believed to be the last coal fired vessel in regular commercial service.
This 50-year-old ship is an important part of our history, culture and tradition. It is currently on the National Register of Historic Places and has been nominated as a National History Landmark as an important part of our heritage.
The economic impact on Manitowoc, a small city of only 34,000 people, is $14 million a year, and the Badger is responsible for providing about 250 jobs on both sides of the lake. It attracts about 100,000 visitors to our cities each year.
Under this amendment, historic ferries would continue to operate under the parameters of the current general vessel permit. The Badger management has spent significant resources over the last few years trying to find a way to convert the vessel to a more modern propulsion system. But it is a difficult, complicated, and costly task.
Even with the passage of this amendment, the owners of the Badger will continue working with the Maritime Administration and the Great Lakes Maritime Research Institute on a program to repower steamships--with the Badger serving as the model vessel for the study.
Congress and the EPA have recognized the special nature of historic steamships before. Just a couple years ago, we exempted more than 50 older and unique Great Lakes steamships from new air emission rules. (I might add that effort was spearheaded by then-Chairmen Dave Obey and Jim Oberstar.) This amendment follows that model, and I urge my colleagues to support it today.
The discharge from the Badger has been repeatedly tested and it is non-toxic and NOT hazardous. It uses high quality, low-sulfur coal. The Badger operators have taken many steps over the years to reduce discharges and coal use. Some act as if the Badger has been out of compliance for decades--but prior to 2008, ``discharges incidental to the normal operation of a vessel'' were excluded from getting discharge permits. It was a 2006 court decision that required the new permits.
The Badger serves as an extension of Hwy. 10 across Lake Michigan and carries semi-trucks and large oversized vehicles and other vehicles that otherwise would be driving around the Lake and through the congested Chicago area. By one estimate, that saves one million gallons of fuel each year and reduces air emissions.
The environment will not be saved by shutting down the Badger, but you will kill jobs, our local economy and a bit of our history.
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