Priorities, priorities: What should guide IDEM policy?

Gitte Laasby of the Gary Post-Tribune takes a look at the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, and whether Governor Daniels' policy of "money first" could be undercutting the effectiveness of the department as an environmental watchdog.

In several speeches since Gov. Mitch Daniels appointed him in 2005, IDEM Commissioner Tom Easterly has stated that IDEM's environmental goal is to "increase the personal income of all Hoosiers" to the national average "while maintaining and improving Indiana's Environmental Quality." Permits, Easterly stated, should be "without unnecessary requirements."

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At a recent speech in Valparaiso, Gov. Mitch Daniels said he set IDEM's goal of increasing personal income.

"It's coming from me. That is the object of our administration, to raise the personal, after-tax income of Hoosiers. We told every department that they were to look for those steps they could take, what could you do faster, or stop doing, to make it more likely the next job happens in Indiana and not somewhere else," Daniels said.

"We protect the environment first and foremost. We have not changed a single regulation except to toughen some. But the way IDEM can contribute is by making its decisions more promptly and more consistently."

Ignoring the obvious fact that Daniels and his crew have been completely unsuccessful at raising personal income in this state, (hint: it's going in the opposite direction), I'm curious why the Governor feels the need to set income growth on a pedestal like this. Shouldn't the goal of IDEM be to do what's best for all Hoosiers, no matter if that means telling a business to come up with a better emissions plan or telling an environmentalist to go hug a tree?

IDEM chief Tom Easterly wasn't available for interview, but his counterparts in Illinois and Michigan were:

In Illinois, the mission of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency is somewhat different, according to Director Doug Scott, who was available for an interview on a day's notice.

"Our agency looks first at the environmental goal. Is there a problem, is there an issue, can we solve it? How do we do that? What's the technology to do that? You bring in the industry and say, 'This is the problem, this is how we perceive to solve it.' Very often, it's very productive. The industry will say, we can't do that because of X, Y and Z," Scott said.

"Money plays a role because that affects the feasibility. But very often, business will be able to say, if you're trying to accomplish this, this is another way to do that. We'll take that into account."

Never Say Never: Guv Says There's Nothing Going On Between IDEM, BP

Sewagemonster This is the kind of statement from an elected official that just begs for a follow-up records request asking to see all the correspondence exchanged between the government entity and the business being regulated by said entity:

Gov. Mitch Daniels' office may have received a thank-you call from BP for a well-run public hearing on the Whiting refinery's air permit, but the office has not been involved with the permit, the governor said Tuesday.

"No. That's IDEM's business," Daniels said after a speech in Valparaiso on Tuesday. "Their instructions -- like every other agency -- are: move fast, be consistent, check the public interest ... be quick. That's where our guidance stops."

In an internal memo to his staff on March 18, Indiana Department of Environmental Management Assistant Commissioner of the Office of Air Quality Dan Murray said a BP representative had called the governor's office to thank IDEM for "the best, most well-run public hearing she has ever been involved in." BP confirmed the call.

Daniels said thank-you calls aren't that common.

"The office gets a lot of phone calls," he said. "As you might imagine, any public office gets more complaints than thank-yous, but once in awhile, someone's nice enough to say something positive."

Last spring, less than a handful of local residents showed up at a hearing on BP's water permit.

On March 14, more than 1,000 people attended the public hearing on BP's air permit in Hammond. IDEM's Murray said his staff has not done anything different this time to get public attendance.

Timing Is The Essence: IDEM Up To Its Old Tricks With BP Whiting Permits

Sewagemonster Here we go again with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management helping out its friends at BP Whiting. The Gary Post-Tribune's Gitte Laasby, who's done a remarkable job covering this and other IDEM issues, reports:

Approval of an air permit for BP is moving along faster than environmentalists would like -- and faster than IDEM's normal standards -- with BP standing to gain.

Environmentalists say IDEM's rushing undermines the public's opportunity to comment and that it happens at the expense of public health.

"This time frame is extremely rushed. It really is not a meaningful opportunity for public comment. Just to read the documents is more time than they've given us," Ann Alexander, senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said.

When the Indiana Department of Environmental Management rescheduled the Feb. 25 public hearing on BP's air permit, it wasn't so much out of consideration for a coalition of environmental groups that asked for more time to review the thousands of pages in the permit -- although that's what IDEM has stated in a news release.

It was because IDEM failed to comply with state law when the agency first publicized the hearing. State law requires a minimum of 30 days' notice. IDEM provided only 20 days. If IDEM had not re-noticed the hearing, the permit could have been successfully challenged at the state or federal level.

Although IDEM is not required to do so by law, the agency usually gives the public about a month and a half after a hearing to submit written comments on permits. This time, the public has just over a week.

New Regulation: IDEM Tries To Repair Image As Lovers Of Pollution

Sewagemonster The Indiana Department of Environmental Management, which saw its share of bad press over the past year, wants you to know that it's not all about lax regulations for big corporations. The Times of Northwest Indiana reports:

In what they deem an "ambitious time line," Indiana environmental regulators say they hope to adopt a new rule protecting state waters from increased water pollution by the end of the year.

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management met with industry, environmental and municipal leaders Friday to discuss how to overhaul the state's antidegradation rule, which aims to ensure water quality.

IDEM has developed new rule language, which will be reviewed internally and later by work groups of community leaders, Martha Clark Mettler, deputy assistant commissioner of IDEM's office of water quality said.

Developing a rule typically takes up to 18 months, but IDEM has made establishing the rule a priority, spokeswoman Amy Hartsock said.

IDEM Commissioner Thomas Easterly admitted Friday that addressing antidegradation has been "troublesome" and time consuming for Indiana regulators.

"We need to come to a solution that is both effective and workable for all," Easterly said. "I would like to finish this rule before I’m not the commissioner, whenever that is."

Indiana's current rule grants exceptions allowing quality to be lowered, with some restrictions, if the water discharge helps support important social or economic development in the state.

But last year's outcry regarding BP Whiting's new wastewater permit prompted concerns that Indiana's law does not do enough to protect water quality.

IDEM has delayed renewing wastewater permits for U.S. Steel's Gary and Portage plants, as well as three ArcelorMittal facilities until a new rule is in place.

Suspended Disbelief: BP Review Finds Rules, Not People, To Blame

Sewagemonster In case you were wondering, that whole debacle over BP Whiting's wastewater permit is in no way, shape or form the Guv's fault, at least according to the guy he hand-picked to investigate the issue:

"An independent analysis of the regulatory process Indiana used to approve a permit boosting pollution discharges from BP's Whiting, Ind., refinery into Lake Michigan concludes that the permit fully complies with federal and state laws.

"But the report released Thursday also highlights problems with Indiana's regulatory process that its author said helped fuel an uproar this past summer over the wastewater permit for the nation's fourth-largest refinery.

"The analysis sought by Gov. Mitch Daniels found that BP's permit is as demanding or more so than adjoining states' restrictions on refineries. And it concludes that its higher discharge levels do not 'threaten drinking water supplies nor portend beach closings.'

"However, the report by James Barnes, the former dean of Indiana University's School of Public and Environmental Affairs, concludes that the controversy over the permit arose in part from shortcomings in Indiana's regulations governing the lake's water quality.

"'The current situation illustrates the pitfalls that accompany a less than clear set of regulations,' his report states.

"Daniels requested the analysis in August following weeks of harsh criticism by environmentalists, the public and lawmakers about the 1,400-acre refinery's new wastewater permit, which replaces one issued in 1990.

"The permit, which Indiana granted in June, had been reviewed and approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It allows the refinery to increase the amount of ammonia it dumps into the lake by 54 percent and its discharges of suspended solids by 35 percent by 2012."

Stupid regulations. Always messing up the water and then trying to pass off the blame to the people who are paid to enforce them.

Public Relations: BP Whiting Submits New Air Pollution Plan To State

Sewagemonster For those following environmental issues in Northwest Indiana, BP Whiting has revised its air pollution permit to reflect some concerns from the community. The wastewater dumping issue, which netted them a good six weeks of bad press earlier this year, remains unresolved.

"BP's newly proposed air emissions limits are strict and part of an important multibillion-dollar investment in the region, company executives said Friday.

"BP officials continued detailing the refinery's proposed air permit submitted earlier in the week. Friday's presentation at the company's Whiting refinery was to local union, economic development officials and municipal leaders who sought to understand the proposed limits.

"BP Whiting plant manager Dan Sajkowski also gave the audience updates on the site's $3.8-billion expansion, in which he said there is "a lot at stake."

"BP submitted an air application to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management that would decrease emissions of four pollutants but would increase releases of sulfur dioxide, particulate matter and lead by 2011.

"Under the new permit, BP would apply the use of credits earned through pollutant-reducing investments to offset the spikes, company officials explained.

"Officials are still determining how to curb emissions of carbon dioxide, not included in the proposed permit, which expected to increase by 50 percent because of expansion planned at the plant, Sajkowski said.

"Sajkowski stressed the refinery's 68 percent reduction in regulated emissions during the last five years.

"'To us, that's a big deal,' he said.

"He said the refinery still is clamoring for a solution to how it will undertake its multibillion-dollar expansion without further polluting Lake Michigan.

"After weathering weeks of criticism regarding proposals to hike releases of ammonia and suspended solids, BP retreated and vowed not to dump more.

"'We, frankly, still don't know how to do that,' Sajkowski said."

One More Time: Feds Zap IDEM For Three More U.S. Steel Permit Problems

Sewagemonster_2 The feds are voicing additional concerns about the Indiana Department of Environmental Management's draft pollution permit for the U.S. Steel complex in Gary:

"The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's letter detailing its three new objections to the permit was sent to Indiana officials on Wednesday, the same day four members of Congress from Indiana and Illinois urged the agency to hold a public hearing on the proposed permit.

"Environmental groups contend the draft permit is too lenient and either eliminates or fails to include limits on discharges of toxic chemical and metal discharges from the sprawling Gary Works complex into the Grand Calumet River, which flows into Lake Michigan.

"On Oct. 1, the EPA blocked the proposed permit, saying it would not be approved until the Indiana Department of Environmental Management included more stringent pollution standards for the facility's discharges into the Grand Calumet.

"Among other things, the agency criticized IDEM for giving U.S. Steel five years to limit several pollutants _ including mercury, lead, cyanide, ammonia and benzo(a)pyrene, a cancer-causing chemical _ from the Gary mill, which is its largest plant and capable of producing 7.5 million tons of raw steel a year.

"In its letter sent Wednesday to IDEM, the EPA listed other concerns, including stating that it was unclear whether the permit's limits on chromium, cadmium, copper, nickel, silver, cyanide and other chemicals meet Indiana's water quality standards.

"It also states that the draft permit 'lacks requirements that reflect the best technology available for minimizing adverse environmental impacts' from the complex's series of blast furnaces, coke ovens and steel-finishing mills."

Someone To Watch Over You: Feds Right To Question U.S. Steel Permit

SewagemonsterThe Fort Wayne Journal Gazette applauds the feds for stepping in and voicing their concerns about the latest pollution permit debacle in Northwest Indiana:

"The federal Environmental Protection Agency is rightly stepping in before Indiana establishes pollution standards for a Gary steel mill that environmentalists criticize as too lenient. The action comes months after Indiana stirred controversy by giving a northwest Indiana refinery permission to increase pollution into Lake Michigan.

"An early draft of the wastewater discharge permit for U.S. Steel quickly elicited groans of 'here we go again' from several environmental organizations. After reviewing the draft, environmental experts voiced concern that Indiana regulators eliminated or failed to include limits on toxic chemical and metal discharges into the Grand Calumet River, a tributary of the Great Lakes.

"The proposed Indiana Department of Environmental Management permit apparently fails to adequately limit emissions of oil, lead, arsenic, benzene and nitrates that the U.S. Steel plant in Gary has reported discharging. The permit also relaxes limits on chromium and could allow an increase of 62 percent. Chromium is a heavy metal that pollutes fish. Long-term chromium exposure causes liver, kidney and nervous system damage in humans.

"Critics contend the draft permit violates the Clean Water Act and think Indiana deserves the heightened scrutiny from the EPA, particularly given the its track record."

Boot To The Head: EPA Swoops In, Objects To Proposed U.S. Steel Permit

Sewagemonster Indiana has earned a thwack upside the head from the feds over its plans to issue a pollution permit that would allow U.S. Steel to dump more toxins into a Lake Michigan tributary:

"The Environmental Protection Agency has moved to block Indiana's plans to issue a new pollution permit for the U.S. Steel mill in Gary.

"The federal agency formally objected to the way Indiana environmental officials determined the amount of waste the mill could discharge, as well as how much time the mill would have to meet the permit limits. The objections are laid out in a letter dated Oct. 1 that was released late Friday.

"Under federal law, the permit can not be issued without the EPA's approval.

"Indiana officials confirmed Friday they will be changing the permit in the wake of the EPA memo and input from the public.

"'We want to effectively address all concerns that have been raised to us,' Indiana Department of Environmental Management spokeswoman Amy Hartsock said.

"At stake is how much oil and grease, lead, arsenic, benzene, fluoride and nitrates from the mill can be dumped into the Grand Calumet River, which flows into Lake Michigan. The lake is the source of drinking water for Chicago and several other cities.

"U.S. Steel's Gary Works -- a series of blast furnaces, coke ovens and steel-finishing mills -- is the largest source of water pollution in the Lake Michigan basin. The complex dumped more than 1.7 million pounds in 2005."

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin has some harsh words for the Guv in this Gary Post-Tribune story, causing gubernatorial flacktoid Jane Jankowski to whip out the old if-you're-not-with-us-you're-against-jobs talking points:

"Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) lashed out at IDEM and Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, accusing the governor of not doing his part to protect Lake Michigan.

"'It troubles me why, month after month, we have to worry about the governor of Indiana asking for another permit to pollute this lake,' Durbin said Friday. 'I wish Gov. Daniels would come up and take a look at this beautiful lake. It is not just the backyard and sewage dump for the industries.'

"The governor's spokeswoman, Jane Jankowski, told the Post-Tribune: 'Gov. Daniels will ignore the personal cheap shots hurled at him by Sen. Durbin, but it's clear the senator doesn't care if steelworkers lose their jobs or not.'"

BP All Over Again: Indiana To Allow Increase In U.S. Steel Dumping?

SewagemonsterHere we go again? (Hat tip, kind reader.)

"Indiana is moving to scrap, relax or omit limits on toxic chemicals and heavy metals dumped into a Lake Michigan tributary by the sprawling U.S. Steel Corp. mill in Gary, according to environmental lawyers and former federal regulators who have reviewed a proposed water permit.

"Language outlining the changes is buried in 117 densely worded pages under consideration by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, which provoked a public outcry this year when it gave a nearby BP refinery permission to significantly increase pollution discharged into the lake.

"BP explicitly asked to dump more pollution. By contrast, Indiana regulators and U.S. Steel officials insist the latest proposal will not allow the Gary Works to increase the amount of oil, grease, metals and chemicals pumped into the Grand Calumet River before it empties into Lake Michigan.

"The permit appears to tell a different story, raising questions about Indiana's enforcement of federal and state laws intended to clean up the nation's lakes and rivers."

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