Chesterton Tribune

IDEM dissolves Office of Enforcement

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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 disturbing.

“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.”

Anderson questioned 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 basis.

“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.”

 

 

Posted 12/15/2008