Sierran Masthead

Club Makes Progress on IDEM Enforcement, But Questions Remain

By Tom Neltner, Chapter Executive Committee Member and Legal Liaison

As you may recall from the Fall edition of the Indiana Sierran, the Hoosier Chapter found serious errors at the Indiana Department of Environmental Management regarding its enforcement claims. See http://indiana.sierraclub.org/Sierran/05-3/idem.asp for a copy of the article.

Serving as Indiana’s watchdog for environmental protection, the chapter investigated claims made by IDEM’s administration regarding improvements in its enforcement process. After paying for and reviewing more than 3,000 pages of documents, the chapter found that IDEM had not provided the most basic item requested--a list of 90 cases that IDEM claims had been resolved between March 1 and June 6, 2005.

On Aug. 22, the chapter filed a complaint with the Indiana Public Access Counselor, asking for help in resolving the problem. IDEM responded with several false claims. Rejecting IDEM’s excuses, the counselor issued an advisory opinion on Sept. 22. She stated that “I find that IDEM responded to your request for records in a timely manner, but has not either produced the list that you seek or indicated that no list exists. Also, IDEM has not met the reasonableness standard for producing records.” In essence, she determined that IDEM violated Indiana’s public records law.

IDEM responded constructively to the decision. Despite major staffing shortages in the enforcement program, IDEM developed a list and is providing additional information.

So where does the situation stand? By the chapter’s count, IDEM reached an agreed order on 79 cases. It dismissed 18 cases without explanation for a total of 97 cases “resolved.”

However, IDEM’s commissioner consistently claimed that the 90 cases were more than two years old. The actual number is 34 not 90. Ten of these cases were with one company--Levy Slag in Porter County--for violations between 1997 and 2002 for its operations at steel mills.

When IDEM completes its response to the public records, the chapter will analyze the agreements reached by IDEM and report to members in a future Sierran. For more information and copies of the documents, contact me at neltner@ikecoalition.org or (317) 442-3973.

IDEM Not Alone in Violating Public Records Laws
IDEM is not alone in violating public records laws. A local group fighting a concentrated animal feeding operation in Jackson County was charged $1 per page for copies of the application--far beyond the required 10 cents per page.
Shondra Zaborowski, the chapter’s conservation chair, filed a complaint with the Indiana Public Access Counselor. The counselor found a violation and recommended that the county return the overpayment. Still, the damage was done since the group lacked the resources to get the copies when it first asked.
The chapter experienced a similar problem in Saint Joseph County. For at least two months, well after a crucial decision was made, the council clerk would not let the club’s local group listen to and record an audio recording of a hearing.


Copyright © 2007 Hoosier Chapter Sierra Club, all rights reserved.[11/18/05]efp

Fall 2005