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The Journal Gazette

Diluted enforcement

A business-friendly philosophy doesn’t explain or justify the Indiana Department of Environmental Management’s shocking reluctance to enforce environmental laws when permit holders violate the Clean Water Act. Hoosier businesses and residents are best served when the state agency makes the regulations clear and then consistently enforces them.

As Dan Stockman’s Sunday story explained, nearly three out of every four facilities with a wastewater discharge permit from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management had a Clean Water Act violation in 2009. But only a third of those violations resulted in any sanction from the state agency responsible for enforcing environmental regulations. And according to the EPA, not one of the violators paid a financial penalty in 2009.

Not every violation was serious; some were simple paperwork errors. But some violations were severe and included polluting the state’s waterways.

Any factory or other facility that discharges waste into a river, lake or stream, including municipal sewer utilities such as Fort Wayne City Utilities, is required to have a discharge permit. IDEM officials tout that the agency is first in EPA’s Region 5 for issuing National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits.

Unfortunately for Hoosiers, IDEM’s efficiency at issuing the permits does not equate with efficiency at enforcing Clean Water Act requirements for permit holders.

According to an EPA database, only 23 of 1,194 violations resulted in any formal enforcement action. Only 377 violators – 32 percent – faced “informal” enforcement. That was usually a letter from IDEM informing the permit holders they were breaking the law. The rest of the violations received no enforcement action.

IDEM officials defended their enforcement record by claiming the EPA’s database is inaccurate and is “not representative of what’s really going on.”

But EPA officials say the information is accurate. EPA officials also note that the IDEM is the source of the EPA’s data.

A 2010 investigation by The Journal Gazette uncovered similar problems with the state’s enforcement of Clean Air Act violations. It found 17 percent of Indiana facilities with Clean Air Act permits had violations over a three-year period. Few were punished. But the lack of Clean Water Act enforcement is even more troubling. There were more than four times as many Clean Water Act violations in just one year, but too little action from state regulators.

Assurance from IDEM officials that they take their responsibility of protecting the environment seriously is worthless if they can not back their words up with action.