INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Ñ State court decisions are allowing Indiana officials to
interpret environmental regulations more strictly than the federal
government does, even when the rules are based on federal standards.
The case involved a dispute between the Indiana Department of Environmental
Management and Steel Dynamics Inc., which operates a small steel mill in the
central Indiana town of Pittsboro. Initial reviews by the state Office of
Environmental Adjudication and Marion County Superior Court yielded mixed
results, and IDEM won the key issue on appeal.
The state Supreme Court last week opted not to hear the case, letting the
IDEM had held that a silo used to store filtered dust and particulate matter
from an electric arc furnace was a hazardous waste tank subject to
regulation under federal law. But Steel Dynamics cited a reference by the
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency saying such silos are part of the
production unit and not regulated tanks.
The steel company argued that since IDEM had adopted relevant EPA rules
rather than written its own, the agency was bound by EPA’s interpretation of
the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.
The state appeals court disagreed.
“However, a state may choose to impose more stringent regulations than those
imposed by RCRA, and ’RCRA sets a floor, not a ceiling, for state regulation
of hazardous wastes,”’ said appeals court ruling, which cited a federal
“By incorporating these regulations, they became IDEM regulations, and
subject to independent IDEM interpretation, just as much as if IDEM had
promulgated them itself,” the court said in an October ruling.
Indianapolis attorney David L. Hatchett, who represented Steel Dynamics,
said Friday that the company hadn’t decided on its next course of action. It
wasn’t immediately clear whether a federal appeal was possible.
“The company’s obviously disappointed,” he said. “We don’t necessarily agree
with IDEM’s interpretation of that rule, but the court ruling is what it
Hatchett said the IDEM action puts Indiana at odds with other states where
Steel Dynamics, the nation’s fifth-largest producer of carbon steel
products, does business.
“This approach that IDEM is insisting on is putting any steel mills in
Indiana at a disadvantage,” he said, “because other states that SDI operates
in do not interpret the regulation the way IDEM does.”
IDEM said Steel Dynamics faces a civil penalty of $20,700 depending on the
final outcome of the case, which was referred back to the administrative
court to resolve some other issues.
An expert on environmental law said that under the system in which states
are empowered to enforce environmental regulations, they are required to set
standards that are at least as stringent as federal ones.
Eric R. Dannenmaier, an associate professor at the Indiana University School
of Law in Indianapolis, also noted that the Bush administration had
developed a reputation for lax enforcement and weakened regulation that
drove states to take leadership.
“It’s not surprising that IDEM read the rules more cautiously than the
federal EPA would have read them over the last eight years,” he said.