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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Environment - A commentary on: Merger of pollution boards worries some

Updating this April 8th ILB entry, this morning the Indianapolis Star has an editorial headed "Sounding environmental alarms." Some quotes:

In the name of simplification and efficiency, the General Assembly this year disbanded a number of state panels and commissions and merged three vital rule-making boards: water pollution control, air pollution control and solid waste management.

As of January, all their complex and critical work will be handled by the new Environmental Rules Board, comprising 16 members appointed by the governor.

The streamlining could cost more in institutional memory than it saves in money. If it is to succeed, the volunteer board must be provided with staff to deal with highly specialized, highly technical research and assessment whose impact on natural resources, public health and the economy will be profound.

Let's stop right there. When there were three separate boards, the technical secretary positions were for the most part vacant. Few, if any, were willing to serve. So the three separate boards had no independent staff.

The editorial concludes with:

Both sides are making a modest request of a legislative summer study committee: Help lawmakers find money for a full-time in-house technical adviser to guide the board through the thicket of state and federal laws and rules affecting the quality of life of every Hoosier. The committee will look into funding, but hopes are not high. Given the size of the task, the price of not investing would be high -- unacceptably so.
Two points here: First, look at the new law's provisions re the tecnhical secretary (advisor). HEA 1002 (see pp. 47-51) provides:
The board shall select, from a list of three (3) qualified individuals recommended by the governor, an independent third party who is not an employee of the state to serve as technical secretary of the board. * * * Provisions of this chapter concerning terms of appointment, vacancies, and compensation of appointed board members apply to the technical secretary. The technical secretary is not a voting member of the board.
The compensation of the technical secretary is set by the new law to be the same as that of the board members. Board members are to be compensated (see top of p. 50) by per diem and milage. So it may be argued that the law would have to be amended to allow the funding "for a full-time in-house technical adviser."

Second, the editorial calls for "a full-time in-house technical adviser to guide the board through the thicket of state and federal laws and rules affecting the quality of life of every Hoosier." So what is the IDEM for? As stated in the April 8th ILB post:

In years past, there has always been a push from some (generally the Chamber) to merge the boards, and perhaps make them full-time, with staff -- a kind of "shadow IDEM." These ideas have never made any progress, until this year when half-a-loaf passed (the merger, but not the staff).
Not only is compensating a qualified person problematic, but perhaps even more so is finding someone to do the job who is trusted by (or at least acceptable to) both industry and the environmentalists, and the governor.

HEA 1002 passed the House 97-0. The Senate amended and passed the bill 44-4. The House then concurred in the Senate amendments 61-36. The Governor signed the bill on March 19th, 2012. Now, only weeks later, many are trying to get the other half of the loaf, the shadow IDEM.

I wrote against the bill during the session, saying it would be a bad idea to eliminate the three individual boards that have operated effectively for over 25 years. But now that they are to be abolished, the answer is not to replace them by providing the new, streamlined environmental rules board with its own staff of full-time, in-house experts. What would come next?

Posted by Marcia Oddi on April 10, 2012 07:09 PM
Posted to Environment | Indiana Government