Thursday, April 15, 2010

Penny Wise and Pound Foolish at IDEM

Earlier this week, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) announced that it would implement budget cuts ordered by the Daniels Administration in part by cutting off funding for mercury monitors throughout the state (see, e.g., here). The expected savings are pretty meager at $285,000. Meanwhile, by curtailing funding, the state loses matching funds from the federal government that paid for half the costs of the mercury monitors.

Mercury is a dangerous neurotoxin that bioaccumulates when ingested. Mercury emissions from Indiana power plants do not fall far from their sources, and are found in high concentrations in local populations of fish that are consumed by Indiana residents. Mercury ingestion is associated with learning disabilities that create especial risks for pregnant women and young children. In fact, IDEM's website still has posted (here) an advisory on fish consumption for those  sensitive subpopulations.

Mercury emissions have been and continue to be higher in Indiana than most other states, in large part because of our heavy reliance on dirty-coal-fired power plants. Indeed, Indiana's mercury monitoring network  has recorded some of the highest readings of any state mercury monitoring network in the country. Perhaps that is why it is being shutdown, using the convenient fig leaf of budget savings.

The Daniels Administration, which has done a fair job managing the state in various other respects, has an abysmal record on environmental protection. The governor, and even IDEM's Commission Tom Easterly, seem to view environmental laws and regulations as little more than nuisances to business and industry that are to be ignored or circumvented to the greatest extent possible. No doubt, they would use budget problems as an excuse to shut down IDEM entirely, if they did not fear the federal EPA more than the state agency.

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