MERRILLVILLE, Ind. (AP) — Indiana’s efforts to redefine
serious environmental violations are drawing fire from critics, who say
the state is endangering people’s health by requiring that a violator
cause actual harm or threaten the environment before facing penalties.
The new definition, which
has yet to take effect, comes as the state Department of Environmental
Management is dissolving its Office of Enforcement and moving those
employees into different departments.
IDEM spokeswoman Amber
Finkelstein says the move will allow for better collaboration between
employees and improve customer service.
Critics say it’s
“Eliminating the Office of
Enforcement, it seems laughable,” Tom Anderson, executive director of Save
the Dunes, told the Post-Tribune for a story Monday. “Their primary
mission is to protect the public health of the citizens of Indiana.”
The revised policy, which
requires a public commenting period and presentation to several state
boards before taking effect, describes the most serious class of
violations, called Class 1, as preventable.
But unlike the old policy
from 2003, the new one lists no examples of violations and specifies that
the violations must “result in actual threat to human health or safety or
... in a serious actual impact to the environment” or “a significant
threat to human health or the environment.”
whether federal law allows IDEM to add that qualification.
“Sounds like it’s an
attempt to weaken the federal regulation that already exists,” he said.
“There’s some sort of burden to show harm, which isn’t what the federal
Clean Water Act or Clean Air Act provide the protection for ... let’s say
you’re discharging PCBs, at what point will you show the harm? Maybe 10 to
15 years from now when they contaminate fish.”
Kim Ferraro, a Valparaiso
attorney for the Legal Environmental Aid Foundation, agreed.
“To prove environmental
harm is very difficult,” she said.
The revised policy also
gives managers more discretion over when companies will face prosecution
and penalties and says top managers, including the commissioner, can
authorize compliance staff to deviate from the policy on a case-by-case
“It clearly is a
relaxation of what industry has to do to get their attention in the first
place. Even if a company did harm the environment, that doesn’t mean IDEM
has to do anything,” Ferraro said.
“We shouldn’t have to be
waiting till actual harm is done for the agency in charge to have to step
up to the plate.”