Indiana business leaders support higher pollution permit fee

Posted at 12:08 PM, May 27, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-27 12:08:30-04

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana's environmental agency is set to increase the cost of state permits that set limits for pollution discharges for the first time in decades, and the move has the rare support of business leaders.

A bill signed into law by Gov. Eric Holcomb this month will allow the Indiana Department of Environmental Management to raise permit fees after an extensive rulemaking process that could take more than a year, the Indianapolis Business Journal reported. The measure is supported by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, the Indiana Manufacturers Association and other business and environmental groups.

The current permit fees are a bargain compared with neighboring states and the permitting system is losing money, according to supporters of the bill. If it continues, backers worry the state might cut workers at IDEM, which would slow the permitting process substantially, postponing projects across a range of industries.

IDEM officials have cautioned that they will face budget deficits if the dues don't cover outlays. The agency is completely subsidized through the current state budget, but the financial outlook will likely worsen in coming years, said IDEM's chief of staff Brian Rockensuess at a Feb. 13 meeting of the state's Environmental Rules Board.

"We are going to have some financial struggles making ends meet with the current staffing and current level of activity that we have had," he said.

A $5.2 million deficit in its permitting process is anticipated in 2021 unless the state raises fees, according IDEM. The agency has around 800 workers, which is a 12% reduction from a decade ago.

Indiana environmentalists said they're in favor of the increases, albeit for a different reason. They believe IDEM already lacks proper funding and staffing, and any additional cuts would hinder the agency's ability to conserve the environment. The agency has seen its subsidies cut by more than one-third since 2007, according to a study by the Hoosier Environmental Council.

The Environmental Rules Board will determine how much to increase the permit costs in Indiana. The board consists of a coalition of business, labor, government, health officials and environmentalists, with public notices and hearings.