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Protect our environment, even in not-so-good times

Jan 3, 2009

Link to this editorial in the Indianapolis Star

Position: State must not let current budget crisis hurt environmental protection.

One of the unfortunate victims of the national recession may be Indiana's environment.

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management, citing a budget shortfall caused by the economic downturn, has cut off $3 million in funds for recycling and pollution prevention programs. The freeze in funding will persist for at least 18 months.

Among the programs that will be hit are those that remove hazardous household materials and old tires from the waste stream.

The loss of funding is especially troubling given Indiana's long-standing environmental problems, including poor air and water quality.

The move also comes in the wake of two other controversial changes that have understandably upset environmentalists.

IDEM last month announced it was abolishing its Office of Enforcement. Although the agency contends that shifting the office's personnel to other departments will improve collaboration and customer service, the move sends an unintended message: that the state will be less diligent in the future about targeting polluters.

The state also wants to redefine what constitutes a serious environmental violation. The proposed policy would require actual harm or a significant threat to human health or the environment before violators would face penalties. The state's top environmentalists worry that the definition, if adopted, would weaken existing protections.

Added together, all of these measures send a signal that Indiana is moving backward on environmental protection at a time when the public is more eager than ever for government to safeguard the land, air and water.

With the General Assembly preparing to convene and the governor planning his annual State of the State address, it's a good time to reassess where Indiana stands when it comes to environmental stewardship. Do economic interests trump environmental needs? Must the recession push aside Hoosiers' desire to leave behind a cleaner, more livable state for future generations?

Today's leaders must understand they're guiding a state that has a long history of neglecting its natural resources. That fact makes not only environmental activists but also many other Hoosiers wary when programs are cut and policies altered.

The budget is undeniably tight. Tough decisions must be made. But the environment should be placed on the same plane as economic development and education when deciding what to protect.

     
     

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