Keep IDEM boards

Improving efficiency and eliminating unnecessary bureaucracy are nearly always desirable objectives – except when efficient actually means ineffectual and impotent.

State legislators need to ask about legislation that would consolidate several state environmental oversight boards into a single environmental rule-making board, especially considering the Indiana Department of Environmental Management’s dubious track record for oversight and enforcement.

Significantly, both environmentalists and businesses oppose the idea.

Sen. Beverly Gard, R-Greenfield, recognized as the go-to legislator for environmental issues, authored Senate Bill 130. It seeks to eliminate IDEM’s Air Pollution Control Board, Water Pollution Control Board and Solid Waste Management Board and replace them with a consolidated environmental rules board.

The goal of the legislation is efficiency.

House Bill 1002, authored by Rep. Dave Wolkins, R-Winona Lake, is a much broader bill about consolidating commissions, committees and boards. But it also includes language about consolidating IDEM boards that is similar to Gard’s bill.

Opponents of the bill are justifiably wary of the proposed consolidation. There are concerns that whatever efficiency IDEM might gain with the consolidation could potentially be eclipsed by the significant loss of technical and scientific knowledge of board members. The knowledge needed to evaluate an air pollution issue differs significantly from that needed to understand a water pollution problem.

Each of the separate boards includes experts in those specific areas as well as representatives of Indiana’s different interest groups, including community and environmental advocates.

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce sent out a survey to its members seeking their views on the bill, and the responses were overwhelmingly against the consolidation proposal.

“I didn’t receive a single comment or phone call in favor of the bill,” said Vince Griffin, vice president of energy and environmental policy for the Chamber. He spoke in opposition to the bill during a Tuesday hearing.

Jesse Kharbanda, executive director of the Hoosier Environmental Council, said the amended version of the bill, which creates a technical secretary, is an improvement.

But the council remains concerned that the consolidation will decrease public comment and make it more difficult to remove politics from IDEM’s policy-making process.

The number of statutorily required board members would shrink from 38 to 16.

“That’s a substantially smaller set of eyes that will be reviewing the same volume of policies,” Kharbanda said. “They will be compelled to rely on IDEM staff.”

The consolidation likely would turn the environmental rules board into a rubber stamp for IDEM.

“IDEM has tremendous influence over the existing boards, and to take it to one board would exacerbate that influence,” Griffin said.

IDEM has punted on far too many of its regulatory duties. The decrease in oversight would not serve the best interest of Indiana’s industries, citizenry or the environment.

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