IDEM head questions accuracy of One Region environmental report

2013-02-10T17:30:00Z 2013-02-11T12:33:08Z IDEM head questions accuracy of One Region environmental reportLauri Harvey Keagle, (219) 852-4311

PORTAGE | Indiana's chief environmental official is bashing a chapter in a locally produced report on the region's environmental quality and progress, questioning its methodology and accuracy.

"I found errors in at least the last four sections that weren't consistent with what we know," Indiana Department of Environmental Management Commissioner Thomas Easterly said.

Easterly's comments came during a presentation to the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission's Environmental Management policy committee meeting Thursday.

Easterly addressed the 2012 Quality of Life Indicators Report produced by One Region and released in October. The report outlines issues defining quality of life in Lake and Porter counties.

Easterly said the report's assertion that Northwest Indiana has "poor air quality" is inaccurate.

"It's not poor," Easterly said. "We've met the standards since 2008 in Northwest Indiana and 2009 for the state as a whole."

The report also said, "the region is not in federal compliance for ozone."

"It is in compliance in Lake and Porter counties," Easterly said, noting the only reason the EPA noted them as noncompliance was because of a violation at a monitor near the Illinois-Wisconsin border.

Because the EPA measures ozone regionally, the entire Chicago metropolitan area, including Lake and Porter counties, were deemed noncompliant with ozone pollution standards.

Easterly took issue with the report's recommendation for a combined sewer overflow task force to develop a regional strategy for addressing the issue.

"We are addressing CSOs," Easterly said. "Except for Gary, all other communities have approved long-term control policies. With the new mayor, Gary is progressing."

The portion of the report addressing beach closures, Easterly said, is "completely wrong."

"We can't figure out where they got the data from," he said. "At least report the right data."

Easterly called for more collaboration with region environmental experts in future Quality of Life Indicators reports.

Kay Nelson, director of environmental affairs for the Northwest Indiana Forum, is leading a committee of stakeholders aimed at collecting available data and analyzing it effectively for the 2016 report.

"How do we access data that tells the accurate, scientific nature of the environment and make it user-friendly?" Nelson said.

Tina Rongers, president of Karner Blue ERA in Valparaiso, compiled the report for One Region. Rongers was not present for Easterly's presentation and said Friday she had not had the opportunity to discuss his allegations with representatives from NIRPC or One Region.

"The underlying data comes from publicly available sources," Rongers said, adding the data was compiled with assistance from NIRPC and IDEM staff.

Dennis Rittenmeyer, executive director of One Region, said increased testing and changing methodologies and standards over the four-year review period for the reports "has been a challenge."

"It becomes very complicated to track things over time," Rittenmeyer said.

Rittenmeyer said Nelson's group is working to "maintain data on a closer to real-time basis so, four years from now, we're working with the most up to date data."

Still, Rittenmeyer said he is concerned with Easterly's allegations.

"If he knows that certain data we've reported is incorrect, Tina needs an opportunity to report to us collectively on where she found that data," Rittenmeyer said.

Rongers said she would be glad to review her methodology with interested parties.

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