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Indiana changing air quality monitoring

Indiana's environmental agency is taking over all air quality monitoring, compliance and permitting duties, leaving environmentalists worried that it could lead to less attention to local air-quality issues. The change, which takes place next year, will end all contracts with local pollution control agencies in Indianapolis and five other parts of the state. State officials said the goal is to

Posted on Dec. 11, 2008 at 12:00 a.m. | Updated on Dec. 11, 2008 at 4:36 a.m.

INDIANAPOLIS -- Indiana's environmental agency is taking over all air quality monitoring, compliance and permitting duties, leaving environmentalists worried that it could lead to less attention to local air-quality issues.

The change, which takes place next year, will end all contracts with local pollution control agencies in Indianapolis and five other parts of the state. State officials said the goal is to streamline government.

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management announced the decision earlier this month with little input from the agencies or other stakeholders, upsetting environmentalists.

"There has been no public discussion about how this work will be done," said Janet McCabe, the executive director of the advocacy group Improving Kids' Environment. "I'm very worried that the loss of services will lead to poor air quality and health issues."

IDEM spokesman Robert Elstro said the change would transfer to IDEM work now done by air pollution control agencies in Indianapolis, Anderson, Evansville, Gary, Hammond and Vigo County.

The contracts with the local agencies had been paid with federal funds and fees from industries, but Elstro said that money now will stay with IDEM to pay for the added work the agency will do because of the changes.

"We expect the same quality of service at the local level," he said.

The move is part of an effort to streamline permitting, monitoring and compliance functions across the state. Some of that work had been done by local agencies such as the Office of Environmental Services in Marion County, which had contracts with IDEM.

In Indianapolis, the agency provides a variety of environmental services, including air permitting, air monitoring and compliance inspections in Marion and surrounding counties.

Its staff also has an enforcement program that conducts year-round inspections, responds to citizen complaints and takes action related to open burning issues, air permit violations, asbestos and industrial pretreatment issues.

In a statement about the change, IDEM Commissioner Thomas Easterly said: "Having a single permitting, monitoring and compliance authority for Indiana means we can eliminate duplicate government services and provide consistent regulatory oversight for all 92 counties."

Elstro said he did not know whether IDEM would be hiring additional workers or placing the responsibility on existing staff. He also could not say whether the changes would produce any savings.

McCabe, a former commissioner of IDEM's Office of Air Quality, said she has several concerns about the new approach, including the lack of input from stakeholders, the short time frame for making the switch and the potential for less local attention to problems.

"I'm all for spending money wisely and managing efficiently," she said. "But there are a lot of functions here that are, in my opinion, better done at the local level."

McCabe cited areas such as planning, responding to complaints and working with businesses as examples of the strengths a local agency would have over the state. How those issues will be handled has not been spelled out, she said.




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