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IDEM changes worrisome

Jan 4, 2009

Link to this editorial in the Marion Chronicle-Tribune

We are concerned that the Indiana Department of Environmental Management decision’s to dispose of its enforcement arm will not serve the citizens of the state well — both now and in generations to come.

We have no doubt that IDEM needed retooling. Historically, simple questions of the agency received a slow response creating a sometimes time-consuming barrier to reporting facts to the public.

Change was needed, we think, to make IDEM more responsive to people and their concerns about the environment and the state’s enforcement of its environment regulations, as area residents can attest in their own dealings with the agency.

“Enforcement didn’t really do much. It seemed like nothing ever got done until it got to the attorney general,” said Don Lindsey of Andrews, who wound up being a neighbor to a confined animal feed operation.

But we are curiously wondering how elimination the IDEM enforcement office will accomplish the creation of a better and more responsive IDEM.

IDEM spokeswoman Amber Finkelstein said the agency will bring together inspectors and enforcement officers under the agency’s programs and enforcement will continue to operate inside those individual programs.

Having everyone working more closely together should speed resolution of compliance issues, she said.

What we do not wish to see happen in a downgrading of enforcement to the point that it lack the teeth or the will to keep our waters and land clean and safe for residents. Sometimes economic pressures work against that goal.

Nothing is done in a vacuum. The economic impact of environmental regulations is an important aspect of IDEM enforcement and there are times when economic considerations should win out — at least in the near term. We can appreciate the costs to people and businesses involved in such enforcement, as sewage rates are expected to skyrocket in Marion this year to pay for the assurance the city doesn’t expel raw sewage into the Mississinewa River anymore.

IDEM Commissioner Thomas Easterly communicated the agency goal in 2007 of increasing the personal income of all Hoosiers. We believe that is a vital overarching goal for state leadership but IDEM’s first responsibility should be the safety and the quality of life for residents — which entails far more than personal income.

We will be watching to see if the changes in enforcement structure at IDEM turn are in line with those responsibilities.



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