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Lake Michigan is a toxic dump

December 21, 2012
The Daily News


Is Lake Michigan a toxic dump?

I ask the question after reading in the Dec. 12, 2012 Daily News an Associated Press release concerning the Badger auto ferry running from Wisconsin to Lower Michigan.

I noted in an earlier letter that the Badger owners were given four years (2008 to 2012) by the EPA to stop dumping coal ash (a toxic by-product produced by burning coal for power) into Lake Michigan. The Badger was reported to dump 500 tons of coal ash per year or 5,000 tons in ten years.

The ferry was given an extension pushed through by Republicans from Michigan and Wisconsin in the U.S. House of Representatives, pending getting on the National Historic Registry.

This time around these same Representatives (Rep. Bill Huizenga R-Mich., and Rep. Tom Petri R-Wis.) are seeking an amendment to the U.S. Coast Guard Reauthorization bill that would allow the Badger to continue to dump toxic coal ash at a rate of about 500 tons per year into Lake Michigan for as long as the Badger floats. Under Wisconsin law, coal ash cannot be deposited in any area were the toxins can leach into any ground water supply or surface water reserve. It should also be noted that this is the only ferry in the country that is allowed this exemption.

It makes little sense to me to argue that the owners cannot retrofit the Badger power generating system to eliminate the dumping of coal ash in Lake Michigan. The does not run all year giving it the time to do the work, although that should not be a factor in the decision to do the retrofit. The financial planning for operating the ferry should include an allowance for power plant repairs and rebuilding if needed for the power generating plant, and the extent of the customer base is big enough to allow for minor limited surcharges to cover costs in excess of the built-in maintenance costs in the budget. Because of the nature of the service, minor fare increases are not going to affect ridership numbers, particularly if the customer understands it is to preserve the quality of the Great Lakes.

This seems to leave greed, blatant disregard for the environmental health of the Great Lakes, and short-term profits as the owners' motivation to seek a legal exemption. They appear to be acting in their immediate self-interests, much like the West Virginia and Kentucky coal mine owners did prior to the health and safety regulations put in place after, in part, deaths due to black lung disease.

What of the motivation for Republican legislators? Could it be greed, arrogance, campaign funds from the Badger owners, ignorance (not likely), even possible corruption (essentially have votes in the Congress for sale), or/and an absolute disregard and disrespect for the environment we will leave for coming generations?

I don't know the answer but it seems clear to me the answer is somewhere in the above list. For at least these Republicans (Huizenga and Petri), the answer is that Lake Michigan is a toxic dump site. I also see no opposition coming from our area's representatives in Congress: Republicans Benishek, Ribble, or Duffy.

Gilbert Engel

Niagara, Wis.



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