Photo by Bob Campbell
Great Lakes freighters are not pretty boats, stubby and slab-sided, and travel from mines to mills unnoticed except when they sink, as the Edmund Fitzgerald did. But people are noticing them now, as some very strange bedfellows try and gut EPA regulations on pollution. In Minnesota, Representative Jim Oberstar is fighting changes that would require ships on the Great Lakes to burn low sulphur fuel instead of the cheap and dirty bunker fuel they burn now. The cleaner fuel costs 70% to 250% more.
He has an ally north of the border: the Conservative Canadian Government.
Launching the Edmund Fitzgerald, from Detroit News
Martin Mittelstaedt writes in the Globe and Mail:
The Canadian embassy in Washington has quietly asked the EPA to weaken the measures, arguing that they could harm trade. It wants ships to be allowed to continue using the high-polluting fuel and to instead install smokestack scrubbers that would clean up their emissions. The Canadian recommendation, if accepted, could delay the clean-air measure for years, because the technology for the scrubbers does not yet exist.
Environmentalists on both sides of the border are outraged.
"I'm actually shocked that the government of Canada would take that kind of position, because it means effectively creating a dirty-fuel zone in the Great Lakes. That would be dirty air that would affect Canadian residents as well as residents in the states nearby," said Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, a Washington-based environmental organization.
He said bunker fuel needs to be eliminated because it is the "nastiest fuel known to man."
Shippers complain that they have to compete with trucks and rail, so if their costs increase dramatically, it will actually create more pollution and congestion as goods that travel by ship will switch to the roads. In the States:
"So this all becomes very cost prohibitive," said Steve Fisher, executive director of American Great Lakes Ports Association. "On the Great Lakes, shipping competes with trucking and train. So, we have asked the EPA to sort of hit the pause button and go back and analyze this a lot more."
And in Canada:
Association president Bruce Bowie defended lake freighters, saying they are the "greenest" type of transportation because they are a highly fuel-efficient way of moving bulk cargo. He predicted the EPA's move could lead to more road congestion.
"If they go ahead as it is now, a lot of our ships will have to be taken out of business and somebody is going to have to build more roads to accommodate it," he said.
But they are both being disingenuous. Since the container revolution nothing much has travelled in great lakes ships except coal, cement, iron ore and a bit of wheat. These boats carry little that isn't bulk, and none of this stuff gets shipped by truck.
They should just suck it up and realize that there is a cost to doing business in a manner that doesn't kill thousands of your customers every year.
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