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IDEM to perform an environGARD says controlling air pollution is not anti-economic development

Photo caption: ATTORNEY CARLA MORGAN speaks at the IDEM public meeting in Gary held to discuss the renewal of the Carmeuse Lime air permit

Every question Gary Advocates for Responsible Development had about Carmeuse Lime and the impact of its manufacturing process on the air quality in Gary was answered when officials from the Indiana Dept. of Environment Management visited on June 1.

Even when some answers were not what GARD wanted or liked concerning the company that produces lime for steel makers. Carmeuse and other processors of raw materials, such as the steel mills, oil refiners, and public utility generators proliferate along the Lake Michigan shoreline in Gary and northwest Indiana.

To control air pollution, those industries must follow state and federal guidelines regulating the emissions coming from their smokestacks.

Carmeuse, located in Gary’s Buffington Harbor, has applied to IDEM for a 5-year renewal of its air pollution control permit. IDEM’s Air Permits Branch Chief Jenny Acker and her staff made the trip to Gary, at GARD’s request, to hold a public meeting on the permit renewal.

GARD wanted the public meeting to allow community residents to get answers about documented pollution violations that, GARD says, have not been enforced by IDEM.

Under Carmeuse’s current permit phase, GARD said in its fact sheet, “IDEM has issued Carmeuse 7 Violations Letters and 6 Formal Enforcement Actions, with the most recent filed in 2022.”

Those violations and enforcement actions formed the basis of objections and concerns about the permit renewal by GARD members and others who spoke at the meeting.

GARD contends that Carmeuse’s continuous non-compliance is also a failure by IDEM to make the company follow Indiana and U.S. EPA clean air rules.

GARD’s Jennifer Rudderham asked, “How do those violations and enforcement actions play into permit renewal, and is the history of non-compliance taken into consideration?”

Acker replied, “A history of non-compliance is not typically taken into consideration during a renewal. I don’t know what the enforcement actions were; that is not my branch. It probably meant fines. Carmeuse is in continuous non-compliance, though it is not egregious. The EPA won’t yank their permit. IDEM will work with Carmeuse to get them back into compliance.”

Before the Carmeuse permit is renewed GARD wants IDEM to tighten emission limits, increase monitoring and reporting, and step-up inspections and enforcement.

The northwest corner of Indiana is the state’s 2nd most populated region and it has the state’s highest levels of air pollution. According to the EPA’s environmental justice screening tool, EJScreen, residents in Gary and East Chicago have the highest risk for cancer and respiratory disease.

Since 1994, all federal agencies have been required to address environmental justice issues. All programs or activities – including states, universities, local municipalities – receiving federal financial assistance that affect human health or the environment must not directly, or through contractual or other arrangements, use criteria, methods, or practices that discriminate on the basis of race, color, or national origin.

When granting and renewing air permits, GARD wants IDEM to perform an environmental justice analysis to determine whether the Carmeuse air permit would adversely affect residents in nearby neighborhoods.

“Did IDEM perform an EJ analysis on the permit?” GARD asked. Acker replied, “No. EJ is something we’re working with the EPA on. We’re looking for guidance from the EPA.”

GARD has filed formal objections to other air permits IDEM has issued in Gary.

In 2017, IDEM issued an air permit for Maya Energy, LLC to operate a waste recycling facility near 35th Avenue and Chase Street, after the company received approval from the City of Gary Zoning Board. Although Maya had not constructed the facility during the 5-year permit phase, in 2022 the company asked for and received IDEM’s permit renewal.

GARD objected to the facility’s permit renewal and petitioned the Indiana Office of Environmental Adjudication to review the permit. The City of Gary was a party in GARD’s petition to the OEA. Gary has also rescinded the 2016 zoning board ordinance. The parties contended that IDEM did not take into account the cumulative impacts of existing pollution on an environmental justice community.

OEA dismissed the petition in March 2023. In April, Gary filed a Petition for Judicial Review with the Lake County Superior Court appealing the decision of the OEA.

GARD asked the OEA to review the air permit IDEM issued to Fulcrum BioEnergy, the company that is planning to construct the country’s largest trash conversion facility in Buffington Harbor. Fulcrum has engineered a process to turn household garbage into jet fuel.

OEA will review GARD’s petition in September 2023. The City of Gary fully supports the Fulcrum facility.

Acker said there is a way to decrease air permit conflicts. “You need to talk to your local zoning boards. If your local board told them no, then those companies couldn’t come to us asking for permits.”

Regarding Carmeuse, Acker told the audience, “It has taken decades to get to this point. It won’t be resolved overnight.”

Public comment on the Carmeuse permit renewal ended June 5.

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