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Editorial

State’s hand abets threats to environment

Indiana’s environment has been taking a beating. News stories abound showing how state officials are failing to protect Hoosiers’ air, water and land from pollution and defilement.

Mercury pollution

In 2007, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management made neighboring states furious. It granted BP Whiting a water discharge permit allowing the refinery to increase the pollution it dumped into Lake Michigan. BP’s discharge site is close to where Chicago draws its drinking water.

Shortly afterward, IDEM regulators lost even more dignity when they granted the company an air-quality variance. It allowed BP to continue emitting particulate pollution at the same rate rather than cutting it as required by federal EPA standards.

The outrage pressured BP and Indiana regulators to re-evaluate the lax environmental safeguards. Former Gov. Mitch Daniels stepped in and asked for an independent review of the water discharge permit. And BP promised to adopt cutting-edge technology to reduce the refinery’s toxic discharges into the lake.

Unfortunately, it appears neither state regulators nor BP leaders are sticking to their promises.

State regulators gave BP until 2012 to meet federal mercury limits. But in 2011, state regulators granted an exemption that allows BP to discharge an annual average of 23.1 parts per trillion of mercury – almost 20 times the federal standard.

A new proposed permit would renew increased limits on ammonia and suspended solids but may allow the mercury exemption to continue.

Increased logging

The Indiana Department of Natural Resources is taking the next step in a plan that has significantly increased logging in state forests.

The initiative, which began under Daniels and continues under Gov. Mike Pence, has increased commercial timber harvesting on public land by about 400 percent.

The latest effort allows timber operators to cut down about 1,500 trees on a 129-acre tract in previously protected backcountry areas of Morgan-Monroe State Forest.

“Our view is it should not be logged,” said Tim Maloney, senior policy director for the Hoosier Environmental Council. “It should be protected as an old-growth forest. That’s a rare kind of forest in Indiana.”

Toxic algae blooms

Summer just began, but officials from the Indiana State Department of Health are already issuing warnings to Hoosiers about high levels of toxic blue-green algae in state reservoirs and lakes.

Excessive phosphorus pollution created by runoff from lawn fertilizers and agriculture causes the contamination. High levels of blue-green algae can produce toxins that cause skin rashes, eye irritation and stomachaches in humans. The toxic algae can kill pets and other animals, including fish and water fowl.

Algae blooms were linked to the deaths of two dogs at Salamonie Reservoir last summer.

Algae blooms will limit Hoosiers’ ability to enjoy state lakes as well as hurt tourism. Water-based tourism brings in about $5 billion each year.

State lawmakers spurned an opportunity to address the problem in the last legislative session when they failed to pass bills addressing phosphorus pollution.

The legislation would have helped protect Indiana’s lakes as well as its economic interests.

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