The Toxic State of Indiana

 

"More air pollution, greenhouse gases, mercury, CAFOs . . . and ineffective politicians and bureaucrats

This year was either a great one for Indiana’s environment or an awful one, depending on whom you talk to and how you look at the world.

According to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, the agency made significant advances in protecting human health and the environment: passing a rule to regulate mercury emissions, assessing one of the largest civil penalties in IDEM history and increasing permit fees.

Critics say that IDEM failed to take steps to address Indiana’s contribution to global climate change, put the financial health and well-being of polluters ahead of the public interest and minimized or ignored public input to the regulatory process.

The Hoosier state made national and international headlines in 2007 for its unusual approach to environmental protection. Here are the most important examples.

Lake Michigan’s big polluter

Perhaps the broadest media coverage occurred in summer, after IDEM granted a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit to BP’s Whiting refinery. BP, the London-based multinational oil and energy conglomerate formerly known as British Petroleum, plans a $3.8 billion upgrade of its 117-year-old refinery on the shores of Lake Michigan in order to process heavier Canadian crude oil from tar sand.

Many people were outraged that the permit allows the plant to discharge 54 percent more ammonia (1,584 pounds) and 35 percent more suspended solids (4,925 pounds) daily into Lake Michigan. The permit also allows BP to continue adding 2 pounds of mercury to Lake Michigan until 2012.

Carolyn Marsh of Whiting, Ind., the convener of the Lake Michigan Calumet Advisory Council, which has been monitoring the many facets of the BP project, said the federal Clean Water Act makes it clear that no additional pollution should be added to the nation’s waterways. “It is a colossal environmental catastrophe in the making,” she said of IDEM’s permit to BP. “They’re creating a dead zone up here.”

The story was in heavy rotation in all major news outlets and even prompted the U.S. House of Representatives to pass a bipartisan resolution, 387-26, condemning the widely criticized permit.

A Dec. 3 report [see sidebar on pg. 17] to Gov. Mitch Daniels from Jim Barnes, an Environmental Protection Agency deputy administrator during the Reagan Administration, said BP’s permit conforms with all federal and state laws designed to protect water quality. However, Barnes noted shortcomings in IDEM’s implementation of its antidegradation policy for Great Lakes waters and recommended that the agency revise its public process to be more transparent and to provide better explanation for the rationale behind decisions.

Green ranking: 49th out of 50

Another public relations disaster came in October when Forbes magazine published its list of America’s Greenest States [see sidebar on pg. 17].

Indiana ranked 49th.

Each state’s ranking was determined by six equally weighted categories: carbon footprint, air quality, water quality, hazardous waste management, policy initiatives and energy consumption. The story concludes, “So who’s at the bottom? Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Indiana and, at No. 50, West Virginia. All suffer from a mix of toxic waste, lots of pollution and consumption and no clear plans to do anything about it. Expect them to remain that way.”

What does it say about Daniels’ plans to double hog production, sell off natural resources and promote more coal-fired power plants when even Forbes — the self-proclaimed “Capitalist Tool” — has written off Indiana?

Development trumps enforcement

John Blair, president of the environmental protection group Valley Watch, based in Evansville, has been battling pollution in Southwest Indiana for three decades. “Governor Daniels and [IDEM Commissioner] Thomas Easterly are doggedly pursuing an agenda of neither environmental protection nor environmental management,” he said. “Time and again Easterly says that IDEM is an economic development tool for the state.”

And although Easterly has said that he wants timely resolution of enforcement actions, an investigation by Dan Stockman [see sidebar on pg. 17] published in July in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette found that IDEM’s Voluntary Remediation Program is “marked by delays, years-long cleanups and neighbors kept in the dark about the polluted soil and water nearby.”

Deadlines are ignored or extended, according to Stockman. “There are no consequences and no enforcement even when deadlines are blown by months or even years.”

Low fees and fines

The Northwest Indiana Times reported this spring [see sidebar on pg. 17] that BP was fined a total of $8,750 after a spill of 1,000 gallons of untreated wastewater at the Whiting plant in November 2006. IDEM could have levied fines up to $75,000 a day.

A report [see sidebar on pg. 17] issued in March by the Environmental Integrity Project, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization founded by former EPA enforcement attorneys, suggests IDEM also is letting polluters off the hook by collecting fees 30 percent below the minimum level set by the federal Clean Air Act.

King coal

IDEM was founded on the notion that a healthy economy is compatible with a healthy environment. But environmentalists and public health advocates take issue with claims that coal-fired power plants fit the concept.

This year, Illinois, North Carolina, Oregon, Washington, Florida, Colorado, Texas and Kansas rejected coal-fired power plants for environmental reasons as well as for financial ones.

Nevertheless, last month Duke Energy’s proposed $2 billion coal gasification plant in Edwardsport (Knox County) received approval from the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission. Valley Watch’s John Blair is angry about the lack of opportunity for public input. “This is the first coal plant built in Indiana in 20 years,” he noted. The commission scheduled its public hearing Dec. 20 and the comment period ends Dec. 30, all during the holiday season. “Don’t think that’s not purposeful!” Blair said.

What greenhouse gases?

Mounting scientific evidence of human causes of global warming has prompted many states to establish a framework for measuring, tracking, verifying and reporting on greenhouse gas emissions that includes establishing benchmarks for future regulatory policies.

But not Indiana.

Indiana declined in May to join 31 states that formed a voluntary Climate Registry to track greenhouse gas emissions, including CO2, by major industries. Even though Indiana had been a founding state for the initiative and had devoted substantial staff resources to the project, IDEM’s Easterly told the Indiana Energy Association in September that signing on to the Climate Registry might improperly imply that Hoosier businesses need to participate in it [see sidebar on pg. 17].

Because of the heavy concentration of greenhouse gas-emitting plants in the region, on Nov. 17 nine Midwest governors signed the Midwestern Greenhouse Gas Reduction Accord, which seeks to establish targets for reductions — especially CO2 from coal-fired power plants. Gov. Daniels was not one of the nine, signing on only as an “observer.”

Dirty air

In July the Environmental Integrity Project released its report “Dirty Kilowatts” [see sidebar on pg. 17], which found Indiana’s coal-fired power plants to be among the dirtiest in the country, not only contributing to global warming but also threatening the health of Hoosiers and citizens in other states.

And the American Lung Association’s “State of the Air 2007” report [see sidebar on pg. 17] placed Indianapolis in the top 10 metro areas most affected by year-round particle pollution.

Mercury

Indiana ranks fourth nationwide in emissions of mercury, a potent neurotoxin especially harmful to children and pregnant women. At its Oct. 3 meeting, the Indiana Air Pollution Control Board rejected a proposal by the Hoosier Environmental Council that called for a 90 percent reduction of mercury emissions by 2010. The board voted 11-1 to adopt the minimum federal Clean Air Mercury Rule [See sidebar on pg. 17]. Under its terms Indiana-based coal-fired power plants could cut mercury emissions by up to 66 percent by 2018.

Recycling funds: up in smoke

Indiana has a problem with scrap automobile tires — some 6 million of them. The state finances the Waste Tire Fund in part with a fee of 25 cents for each new tire sold, one of the lowest such fees in the nation.

Late last year, IDEM proposed adding waste-to-energy projects — specifically burning automobile tires for tire-derived fuel — to the list of priorities the Indiana Recycling Market Development Board uses when considering applications for grants or low-interest loans to solid waste management districts for recycling programs.

The initiative alarmed Indiana Recycling Coalition members, who feared that the definition of recycling might be modified to include incineration, which would turn the definition of recycling on its head. In the EPA’s solid waste hierarchy, source reduction has uppermost priority, followed by reuse and recycling. The bottom tier is considered final disposal and includes incineration, waste-to-energy and landfills.

In early 2007, legislators asked Indiana’s Environmental Quality Service Council to study the tire proposal and make recommendations. At its Oct. 30 meeting, the council recommended urging the General Assembly to permit IDEM to use monies to promote tire-derived fuel. Because that recommendation was listed under the heading “Recycling,” it led to renewed concerns that IDEM was set to equate incineration (final disposal) with recycling (resource recovery and reuse). Incineration could add significantly more air pollution to the state’s already dirty air because burning tires releases dioxins and furans as well as carbon monoxide and fine particles. Also, the ash would create a disposal problem.

Food security and public health

The General Assembly failed in 2007 to strengthen regulation of Confined Animal Feeding Operations. Maybe they will reconsider, based on events this year.

In January, the EPA ordered De Jong Dairy LLC, in Fremont, to comply with its NPDES permit and stop all unauthorized waste discharges and meet all the requirements of the dairy’s state-issued discharge permit. At the time of its reprimand, the factory farm had applied to IDEM for a permit to double its 900-head dairy cow operation. CAFO opponents wonder why enforcement action had to come from the EPA instead of IDEM.

After reports in February of sudden illnesses in and deaths of dogs and cats, some recalled pet foods were found to contain wheat or rice gluten contaminated by melamine imported from China. In April the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture initiated widespread testing of all vegetable proteins, including those used in human foods. The agencies released estimates that 38 poultry farms in Indiana had used melamine-contaminated chicken feed from China. Despite government assurances that there was a low risk of a similar health threat to humans, the discovery raised questions about food security because the feed had been used in February and by April many of the chickens had already entered the food supply.

These reports anger many citizens around the state who live near such facilities and see their property values decline as a result. They worry about the impact of CAFO-related trucks on rural roads and bridges. And they have to deal with the odor and potential health threats when CAFOs apply manure to fields.

The I-69 saga

Land acquisition is under way for the controversial new-terrain route from Indianapolis to Evansville via Martinsville, Bloomington and Washington — even as a lawsuit challenging the project winds its way through the legal system.

Tom Tokarski, of Citizens for Appropriate Rural Roads, says unprecedented numbers of citizens have opposed the new terrain route and support the less environmentally damaging I-70/U.S. 41 “common-sense alternative.”

“This project is driven not by economic or transportation needs but by selfish political motives and greed,” Tokarski said recently. CARR has been battling the project for 17 years. The group’s research has found that the proposed extension would destroy nearly 400 homes, force between 80 and 100 existing businesses to relocate, take more than 5,000 acres of some of the best farmland in the state and require cutting more than 1,500 acres of forest. “It would slice through the Patoka National Wildlife Refuge and bulldoze through sensitive karst terrain, disrupting cave systems and underground water tables with unpredictable but potentially devastating results,” he said.

“It is irresponsible in the highest degree to propose a project like I-69 that would result in more carbon emissions and major loss of valuable farmland and forests, and cause more negative impacts on animal species currently at risk due to global warming and loss of critical habitat.”

Indiana historically has had a reluctance to issue environmental regulations that exceed federal standards. So state regulators are accurate when they say they uphold the law by following U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations.

And polluting industries — the regulated community — have tremendous clout when it comes to influencing policymakers, sometimes going so far as to write the regulations that become law.

For example, when the Indiana Air Pollution Control Board voted to adopt the minimum federal Clean Air Mercury Rule it ignored the outpouring of public comments in support of the Hoosier Environmental Council’s proposed 90 percent reduction plan [see sidebar on pg. 17].

Public health officials, other environmental organizations and hundreds of individual citizens commented in favor of greater protection of public health. The following IDEM response typifies the agency’s approach: “Due to uncertainties over the achievability of 90 percent control, reductions in actual mercury exposure levels, cardiovascular health effects and the low benefit/cost ratio, IDEM is proceeding with a rulemaking based on CAMR.”

In an e-mail response to a question about the vote for CAMR, IDEM Commissioner Thomas Easterly wrote, "

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