Tuesday, May 13, 2014

With friends like IDEM Hoosiers are on their own

Posted By on Tue, May 13, 2014 at 4:00 AM

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Pity Keith Baugues. Like a lot of us, this year's barbaric winter apparently really got to him.

And, like a lot of us, the way Baugues deals with something getting to him is to turn to social media. In his case, a state government message board.

Baugues works for IDEM, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, where he is assistant commissioner in the Office of Air Quality. As an article by John Russell in the Indianapolis Star put it, Baugues is "the man in charge of cleaning up Indiana's air."

Baugues was evidently at his wit's end because ice and snow had turned his daily commute into a three-hour ordeal. So he posted this message: "Anyone who says global warming is obviously suffering from frostbite."

He said he was trying to make a joke.

It makes you wonder what it must be like working at IDEM. According to its website:

"IDEM's mission is to implement federal and state regulations to protect human health and the environment while allowing the environmentally sound operations of industrial, agricultural, commercial and government activities vital to a prosperous economy."

In practice this has meant that IDEM has functioned as an extension of the state's office of economic development. Its director, Thomas Easterly, is an engineer who worked for Bethlehem Steel and NISOURCE, a major utility company. During his time at Bethlehem, Easterly presided over creation of a mound of toxic industrial waste 200 feet from the Lake Michigan shore. It came to be known as "Easterly's Pile."

Baugues has a similar pedigree. Before getting into environmental protection, he worked for an engineering firm, Keramida, whose clients included power plants, mines and oil and gas facilities. He has declared himself a global warming skeptic. "It seems silly to be talking about global warming at a time when we were having extremely cold unseasonable weather," he wrote.

With leadership like this, it's not surprising that when crude oil spilled into Lake Michigan at the BP refinery during the last week in March, the silence from IDEM was deafening.

In 2006, Indiana granted BP permission to expand its plant on Lake Michigan in order to process tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada. "This marks another huge step in Indiana's economic comeback," crowed Gov. Mitch Daniels.

The March spill - amounting to between 630 and 1,600 gallons - involved newly installed equipment and took place just two miles from the Hammond Water Works. Since Lake Michigan provides drinking water for millions of people, a spill of any size should be alarming. Senators Durbin and Kirk of Illinois, and Levin, of Michigan, called for a meeting with BP executives and an investigation. Durbin and Kirk released this statement: "We cannot be too careful when it comes to protecting the health and safety of Lake Michigan which serves as the primary source of drinking water for millions of people in and around Chicago."

Those people include Hoosiers. But not a single Indiana politician, least of all Messrs. Baugues or Easterly, had anything to say.


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