As coal plants shut down in Indiana, the state gets less money from the air permit fees that companies pay to put pollution in the air. That means fewer dollars are going to the people and equipment needed to run the state’s air permitting program.
The state plans to increase those fees for the first time in more than a decade.
Matt Stuckey works for the Indiana Department of Environmental Management’s Office of Air Quality. He says for a while now, IDEM employees have been struggling to do more with less.
Since 2012, the agency hasn’t filled more than 100 open positions. Stuckey says air permit fees have to go up if the air permitting program is going to be effective.
“We want to see reductions in emissions — they're great things — but we don't really have less work to do,” Stuckey says.
Stuckey says IDEM, other states, and the federal Environmental Protection Agency are working to find a better way to fund these permitting programs.
The Environmental Rules Board voted to increase air permit fees by 27 percent — which Stuckey says would put Indiana in line with what other Midwest states charge.
Tim Rushenberg is the vice president of the Indiana Energy Association, which represents some utilities in the state. He says the increase is fair and will make sure the program will run efficiently.
“It's just not a good thing to have permits tied up. That's bad for economic development in business,” Rushenberg says.
IDEM plans to increase permit fees under its water and land programs as well.
Indiana Environmental reporting is supported by the Environmental Resilience Institute, an Indiana University Grand Challenge project developing Indiana-specific projections and informed responses to problems of environmental change.