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The Journal Gazette

Saturday, July 08, 2017 1:00 am

Feds limiting remediation options

Indiana Legislative Insight reports a new policy from the Trump administration puts into question a pollution mitigation tool used to protect the environment in northwest Indiana and other parts of the state.

The political newsletter points to a memorandum from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions barring the federal government “from entering into any settlement of federal claims or charges that either directs or provides payment to a non-governmental third party that was not directly harmed by the conduct that is the subject of the settlement.”

At stake could be a November agreement reached between the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Steel. The company agreed to resolve a suit involving the Clean Air Act by taking measures to reduce pollution at its iron and steel plants in Gary and in Illinois and Michigan. In addition, U.S. Steel agreed to spend $1.9 million on seven environmental projects in the communities affected. In Gary, those included a project to remove lighting fixtures with toxic chemicals in public schools, and removal and proper disposal of waste tires dumped in the city.

“(Supplemental Environmental Projects) have become firmly entrenched in federal settlement policy and in settlement policies and practices of the majority of states,” according to a news release from Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP. “State authorities often favor SEPs because the projects directly benefit communities, improve human health and contribute to local economies. ... Businesses often favor SEPs in conjunction with the payment of penalties because of the positive message often associated with such projects.”

Legislative Insight points to another Indiana example of an SEP in southwestern Indiana, where Triad Mining Inc., accused of polluting the White River, agreed to restore nearby streams and create and maintain 66 acres of stream buffer and nine additional acres of forested wetlands. In northwest Indiana, NIPSCO agreed to spend $9.5 million on environmental mitigation, including donation and restoration of lands adjacent to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.