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West Michigan Diary: Badgering the Badger

The business of regulators is to regulate, even when it makes little sense. After all, there are jobs to protect. As a result, regulations often neglect the principle of diminishing marginal utility. (Here’s a quick illustration: The first doughnut you eat may be very enjoyable. The second, less so, and by the fourth, you may be sick.)

Air and water quality in the United States have improved greatly since Richard Nixon instituted the EPA. Admittedly, many of those improvements have come about through regulations and laws. So we’ve gotten some benefit from them–though arguably, at the cost of sending some jobs to countries with less strict regulatory approaches.

Making further improvements through regulation, though, will cost disproportionately more, imposing significant costs for minimal benefits.

One West Michigan company, and its customers, that is subject to this problem is Lake Michigan Carferry, which operates the SS Badger. The Badger transports goods and people on a 60-mile trip across Lake Michigan. It’s facing a battle with the EPA. If the two don’t come to terms, the Badger may be forced to stop sailing.

Manitowoc port-docked 1

Admittedly, I’m biased towards the company because of personal convenience. At least once a year, I drive from Minnesota to Michigan, using the Badger to cross the Big Lake. The Badger is not exactly a luxurious vessel, but being on the water is (usually) a pleasant experience.

The Badger burns coal to power its engines, which gets it in trouble with the EPA. No, it’s not the coal dust that goes into the air; it’s the residue of the coal, after it’s burned, that is the problem. It gets dumped into the lake.

That sounds horrible, but we need to keep things in perspective. Governments up and down the shores of the lake have routinely dumped untreated sewage. Also, the Badger is now the only ship that puts coal ash into the lake, so putting ash into the lake is akin to putting a drop into the municipal swimming pool.

Some people in Ludington, Michigan’s port for the Badger, have been running a campaign, SOS Badger, to encourage people to lobby the EPA.

For its part, the Badger’s owners are asking passengers to sign petitions to both the EPA regional office and Sen. Debbie Stabenow.

This page collects EPA information about the Badger.