The House of Representatives today approved an amendment to a Coast Guard bill designed to help maintain the operations of the S.S. Badger ferry between Manitowoc and Ludington, MI. The measure was championed by Manitowoc-area Congressman Tom Petri, Ludington-area Congressman Bill Huizenga, and Congressman Dan Benishek of Michigan.
The Badger is an historic ferry, believed to be the last coal-powered steamship in the U.S. The ferry currently operates under an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulatory program which allows it to discharge coal ash into Lake Michigan. That program is set to expire in December, 2012.
"The discharges are tested regularly by an independent EPA certified laboratory. The tests have confirmed that the coal ash lacks the presence of anything at or near levels that would qualify as hazardous under any law," said Petri. "Even so, the Badger owners have been trying to identify an affordable alternative to coal. Natural gas has possibilities, but in any case, they need more time. The amendment would allow the Badger to continue operating under the current regulatory regime."
Petri noted that the Badger is a unique, historic vessel which, along with other ships of historic and cultural importance, should receive special consideration because changes necessary to comply with EPA regulations are much more difficult for such vessels.
"This 50-year old ship is an important part of our history, culture and tradition," Petri said. "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 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."
"The Badger carries commercial 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," Petri said.