The S.S. Badger, still crossing Lake Michigan by burning coal.
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The S.S. Badger, still crossing Lake Michigan on coal power.

It’s bad enough that the S.S. Badger is still powered by coal — the only car ferry left in the country that runs on the dirtiest of fossil fuels. But what’s really going to blow your mind is how the ferry disposes of its coal ash after burning: It is mixed with water into a slurry and dumped overboard. More than 500 tons of it every year. Straight into Lake Michigan. Just like its operators have been doing since the 1950s.

In 2008, the U.S. EPA told Lake Michigan Carferry, the company that operates the Badger, to cut that crap out. The company must switch to another fuel or start dumping the waste somewhere on land, the EPA said. The ferry company responded by asking for more time to study how it would switch over to natural gas, and the EPA was all, OK, but just four more years, and that’s it.

That four-year grace period expired over the winter, and guess what Lake Michigan Carferry plans to do once the ferrying season begins next month? That’s right, it plans to continue dumping its coal ash into Lake Michigan. And the federal government is pretty much OK with that.

From the AP:

The company had applied for a permit to continue dumping the ash while researching how to retrofit the ship to operate on liquefied natural gas. Under a proposed consent decree [between the EPA and Lake Michigan Carferry] filed in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids, the company would scrap that option in favor of onboard storage.

Disposal into the lake would be reduced over the next two years and stop altogether by the end of the 2014 sailing season.

After a 30-day public comment period, a judge will decide whether to approve the deal, which also would require the company to pay a $25,000 civil penalty for exceeding mercury pollution standards last year. Coal ash contains low concentrations of arsenic, mercury and other heavy metals, although it’s not classified as hazardous. The company denied violating federal or state mercury regulations.

“This consent decree offers the fastest and most certain path available to EPA to stop the discharge of coal ash from the Badger into Lake Michigan,” said Susan Hedman, EPA regional administrator.

The feds would like to know how you feel about this deal. From the Ludington [Mich.] Daily News:

“Now it’s important that our community step forward and start submitting its comments on this agreement between the EPA and carferry owners,” Ludington Mayor John Henderson told the Ludington Daily News recently. “I hope everybody sees there is true progress being made that totally eliminates that discharge into Lake Michigan and make it a more environmentally friendly operation.”

Here’s a comment for Lake Michigan Carferry: Join us in the 21st century! It isn’t so bad here. We’ve got cleaner air and cleaner water now, because other people started cleaning up their acts last century.