As a young boy, I watched the car ferries depart Michigan for Wisconsin, so there is a certain amount of nostalgia for them and their giant plumes of coal smoke. As one might imagine, however, the coal ash creates a problem for the delicate ecosystem of Lake Michigan and so is sensibly regulated by the EPA. The owners of the last coal-burning vessel on the Lake, however, won't go quietly. They have recourse to a creature threatened by their business activitiy, the Red Herring. The Chicago Tribune reports:
In documents obtained by the Tribune, the car ferry's owners plead for the National Park Service to grant the Badger special protection from the EPA, which in 2008 gave them four years to find a solution to the ship's pollution problems.
"This designation could play a critical role in the survival of this one-of-a-kind historical asset," Bob Manglitz, president and chief executive of the Lake Michigan Car Ferry Service, the Badger's owner, wrote in a letter to the Park Service. Landmark status, Manglitz wrote, would be "invaluable" during negotiations with the EPA about a new Clean Water Act permit for the ship.
In their application for landmark status, the Badger's owners say the ship's "historic propulsion system" is "under threat" by the EPA.
It describes the Badger as "the final stage of development of the Great Lakes rail and auto passenger ferry," making it worthy for protection as an example of once-innovative technology to move goods across the nation. Its massive coal-fired boilers were the last of their kind built for U.S. ships, according to documents filed with the Park Service.
Converting the ship from coal to oil "would destroy part of the historic coal-delivery system and significantly increase operating costs," the application states. Adding diesel engines would leave "the historic machinery intact but unused."
Now as an old man, or rather someone who feels like an old man, I get my drinking water from the very same lake. So what's the problem with coal ash?
Coal ash contains arsenic, lead, mercury and other toxic metals. The pollutant drew national attention in 2008 after a coal ash holding pond ruptured at a Kingston, Tenn., power plant and fouled an Ohio River tributary. On Oct. 31, a bluff collapsed next to another power plant south of Milwaukee and sent a torrent of mud and coal ash into Lake Michigan.
It would be more honest if the disingenuous owners argued that these historic pollutants–arsenic, lead, and mercury–are under assault by the EPA.