EPA Raises Concerns About IDEM Changes
Jan 22, 2009
Recent changes in enforcement at the Indiana Department of Environmental Management are not going over well with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The EPA sent a letter to IDEM Tuesday, raising questions about the changes and requesting a meeting.
"It has come to our attention that the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) has made or is planning to make several changes to its enforcement program," EPA Acting Regional Administrator Bharat Mathur wrote in the Jan. 20 letter to IDEM Commissioner Tom Easterly.
"These changes include eliminating the Office of Enforcement, revising the Compliance and Enforcement Policy (CERP), and eliminating funding for local air authorities."
EPA Region 5 "would like to discuss the nature, extent and status of these changes with IDEM so that we can evaluate their impact on the State's federally authorized, delegated and/or approved environmental programs," Mathur said in the letter to IDEM, which was sent Tuesday.
The Post-Tribune published stories in December about IDEM dissolving its enforcement office and proposing changes in its enforcement policy.
IDEM spokesman Rob Elstro said he didn't know whether IDEM is planning to meet with EPA because IDEM has not yet received EPA's letter.
"No one's discussed setting up a meeting," he said. "We try to meet with U.S. EPA routinely as schedules line up but we haven't discussed this yet because we haven't received a request for it yet."
IDEM's proposed new policy suggests that IDEM modify its compliance and enforcement policy to say that only violations that cause actual harm to human health or threaten the environment be included among the most serious environmental violations. The new policy would also give managers more discretion over when companies will face prosecution and penalties.
Environmentalists have called the policy an attempt to weaken existing federal law by adding a burden to show harm occurred.
The new policy, revised Oct. 31, would also make consequences of violations more discretionary. The old policy said the most egregious violations were immediately referred to the Office of Enforcement. The new policy asks compliance staff to submit a report to the assistant commissioner who reviews it for referral to the Office of Enforcement.
In the letter, EPA questions about "whether criminal investigations are addressed under a different policy or set of practices."
To go into effect, the proposed policy must be available for public inspection for 45 days. The document is available on IDEM's Web site, but IDEM has not officially put the policy up for public comment. Among EPA's questions are the "current status" of the policy and "the opportunity to comment," according to the letter.
The policy has to be presented to the state's Air Pollution Control Board, the Water Pollution Control Board, the Solid Waste Board and the Financial Assurance Board before it goes into effect, but board approval is not required. That has not yet happened.
See the proposed compliance and enforcement policy on IDEM's Web site at www.in.gov/idem/files/nrpd-enf_0006.pdf
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