Friday, May 16, 2014

IDEM responds to Hoppe

Posted By on Fri, May 16, 2014 at 1:00 PM

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While I am sure David Hoppe's May 13 Guest Voices column, "With friends like IDEM Hoosiers are on their own," was not designed to deliberately misinform the public about the work of the Department of Environmental Management, it suffered from a lack of information about the agency, its staff, and its mission to protect Hoosiers and the Environment.

First, the statement made by Assistant Commissioner Keith Baugues about global warming was contained in an informal, internal bi-weekly message to staff in the Office of Air Quality. Even before the IDEM employee released his statement to news media, Baugues had issued an invitation to staff members who were offended by the comment to meet for a friendly discussion of the science behind the debate. From an environmental protection standpoint, all of IDEM's nearly 900 environmental professionals, including Mr. Baugues, do not let their personal opinions keep them from carrying out the agency's duties and enforcing Indiana's environmental rules.

Second, the column took pains to highlight specific biographical information about the Commissioner and Assistant Commissioner, but left out important information that provides a more complete, less biased picture of their backgrounds. Baugues has worked in the air quality field for more than 40 years. He has worked for state government for more than a decade, and worked for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for nine years, where he helped author the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments. Baugues started in environmental protection in 1973. Much of this information is available on IDEM's website, and could have been verified before this column was put out.

The column noted that the Commissioner of IDEM had worked at Bethlehem Steel and Nisource, but it failed to note that in addition to being an engineer, the Commissioner has his MS in Urban-Environmental Studies from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Easterly previously worked at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, where he held positions in the Air and Solid and Hazardous Waste Divisions, and has served as president of the board of directors of the Indiana Dunes Environmental Learning Center. It is this diversity of experience that brings a deep understanding and balance in addressing regulatory issues.

Air quality in Indiana has continued to improve while both Commissioner Easterly and Keith Baugues have been in office. Indiana was one of only 19 states that achieved the ozone and fine particle standards in 2009, meaning our air was some of the healthiest in the nation. What Indiana and all of the states must do is keep pollutant levels within the national ambient air quality standards, which continually become more stringent; as evident in States View of the Air, a study IDEM released this spring.

Mr. Hoppe was also incorrect in stating that Easterly presided over creation of a mound of toxic industrial waste 200 feet from Lake Michigan shore. The area he referred to is the Basic Oxygen Furnace (BOF) Farm at the ArcelorMittal facility in Northwest Indiana where secondary wastes that are high in iron-ore are managed for reuse at the center plant. The materials are not toxic. The facility's method of managing them has been in place since the 1980s, prior to Tom Easterly's arrival at the Burns Harbor facility. This practice actually minimizes waste and conserves natural resources. While we have seen this referred to as "Easterly's pile" by some reporters, we are not aware that anyone else calls it by this name. IDEM provides an interactive map showing the materials that are managed at the ArcelorMittal on its website at http://www.in.gov/idem/6539.htm.

In response to the claim that IDEM was 'deafeningly silent' during the BP Whiting incident this spring, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, IDEM emergency response personnel from the North West Regional Office were on site, along with U.S. EPA and the U.S. Coast Guard. Because Lake Michigan is an international shipping water with shoreline shared by multiple states, it was appropriate for the federal agencies to take the lead on the cleanup and investigation. IDEM staff assisted our federal counterparts, and an IDEM public information officer was made available around the clock during the incident. He fielded dozens of calls from local, regional, and national media, as well as calls from the general public who wanted to know what was happening during the spill. Our media office coordinated with federal agents throughout the multi-agency response.

With respect to BP's daily operations, IDEM provides diligent regulatory oversight. The article failed to note that in September, 2013, IDEM issued a wastewater permit to BP that placed more stringent limits on the discharges from the facility and that environmental groups such as NRDC noted that "Overall, the language of the agency's response to our comments reflects a newfound spirit of willingness to take our input seriously." The wastewater permit issued by IDEM is the most stringent ever, and was approved by U.S. EPA. For example, under this new permit, BP's allowable mercury discharges were reduced by 66 percent. The permit documents are available for public review on the IDEM website.

IDEM is always available to provide information to the public, and members of the media, upon request. More facts and information can be found at http://idem.IN.gov.

Dan Goldblatt is a spokesman for the Indiana Department of Environmental Management

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