S.S. Badger may keep on polluting, thanks to stealth Republican earmark

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The S.S. Badger saga has been covered here in the past. Briefly, the 60-year-old car ferry that runs between Manitowoc and Ludington, Michigian has a storied history but also a dirty one. It runs on coal and it's dumped thousands of tons of toxic coal ash in Lake Michigan over the years.

Environmentalists and more lately the government have pushed hard to get the ship's owner to stop that practice, but the ferry has its champions, and the latest attempt to let it keep right on polluting one of the world's largest bodies of fresh water is hidden in a US Congressional earmark -- a feature of legislative bill packing that Republicans supposedly did away with.

In today's New York Times:

Buried in a Coast Guard reauthorization bill now in final negotiations between the House and Senate is curious language saying a “qualified vessel” shall continue to operate for its entire lifetime, “without regard to any expiration dates” on the permit it operates on. Nowhere does the word “Badger” appear, nowhere is the expiration date of Dec. 19, 2012, noted.

But the enumerated qualifications — including that it be nominated or on the list of National Historic Landmarks — apply to only one vessel, the S.S. Badger, a 60-year-old ship with a look torn from an old postcard and a permit to operate, coal ash and all, that expires next month. Republicans supposedly put an end to special-interest language slipped into bills to benefit projects or employers in their districts when they took control of the House last year.

And the sponsors of that language, two Republican representatives, Tom Petri of Wisconsin and Bill Huizenga of Michigan, say it is not an earmark because it does not mandate the expenditure of any money.

Other legislators disagree, according to the Times. “If it walks like an earmark and talks like an earmark, it’s an earmark,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, who has done battle with the owner of the Badger for years. “I’m not going to let that language go through.”

I'm one of those people who in the past rode the Badger for pragmatic reasons and because it really is a piece of history, but I'm very unhappy about its owner's disinclination to stop polluting the lake. The ship certainly could be refitted with diesel engines, and no ship sails waters without causing some pollution. But the Badger's gross violations in these environmentally conscious times are simply not justifiable. And for a pair of Republican congressmen to serve this cause in such a back-door, anti-public fashion is beneath contempt.