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The hollowing out of Illinois government: IEPA

Wednesday, Nov 27, 2019

* As I’ve said before, the high point in Illinois government was around Fiscal Year 2001. After that, it’s been all downhill due to two recessions (post 9/11 and the international financial collapse) and vastly increased pension payments. Here’s Ted Cox at One Illinois..

“Protecting the Illinois EPA’s Health, so That It Can Protect Ours” was written by Mark Templeton, heading a team from the Abrams Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Chicago Law School, as well as former IEPA and U.S. EPA staffers Mary Gade, Doug Scott, and Bharat Mathur — all of whom took part in a media conference call Tuesday.

Templeton said the report stemmed from “mutual shared concern about Illinois EPA” and its role “to protect public health and the environment.” They cited dwindling staff and resources at the agency dating back to 2003. According to Templeton, staffing last year was down to 639, almost half of the 1,265 EPA workers on staff in 2003. IEPA staffing and budget were cut every year going back to 2003, and stood at $382 million in the current budget for the 2020 fiscal year. down from $522 million in 2003. He pointed out that all came from a fee system that hadn’t been readjusted since 2003. Gade added that Illinois is the only state in the Great Lakes Region 5 area of the U.S. EPA that doesn’t fund its state EPA through general appropriations.

Gade, who headed IEPA throughout the ‘90s, added that statewide inspections had dropped from a couple thousand a year to a few hundred. Citing the “cumulative impact of years of declining IEPA budgets,” she said the “slow, gradual decline … needs to be reversed and reversed quickly.” She said failure to adequately test emissions of ethylene oxide at Sterigenics in Willowbrook as well as firms in Lake County were one thing that had attracted much attention, but perhaps the greater danger was the smaller, unobserved “accumulating” problems in air and water statewide “that isn’t as clean as it needs to be.”

The report also cited that IEPA referrals to the Office of the Attorney General had declined from 212 under Gov. Pat Quinn in 2014 to just 78 under Gov. Bruce Rauner in 2016 before rebounding a little to 116 in 2017.

According to Mathur, there are now just four engineers in IEPA’s Chicago office, where previously there were more than a dozen, and the staffing situation was even more dire in central and southern Illinois.

The report is here.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

15 Comments »
  1. - Pelonski - Wednesday, Nov 27, 19 @ 12:15 pm:

    Unfortunately, the pace of adding new responsibilities to the different agencies has not declined along with the lack of resources. For example, the recreational cannabis law adds administrative responsibilities to Ag, Public Health, and Revenue among others. It’s unlikely they will see an increase in their budgets to pay for this additional administration cost, so existing programs will suffer.


  2. - Oswego Willy - Wednesday, Nov 27, 19 @ 12:17 pm:

    This hollowing out begs the question;

    How can this agency meet its mission in servicing the people of Illinois?

    Who… would be cheering for lower inspectors or engineers and why?


  3. - Anon221 - Wednesday, Nov 27, 19 @ 12:32 pm:

    This…

    “but perhaps the greater danger was the smaller, unobserved ‘accumulating’ problems in air and water statewide ‘that isn’t as clean as it needs to be.’”

    Addressing cumulative issues may not generate as much press in the short run, but it will over time and over generations. Invest now or face major cleanups later.


  4. - Moe Berg - Wednesday, Nov 27, 19 @ 12:42 pm:

    This is neat synergy: the Abrams Environmental Law Clinic at the U of C is funded by the owners of Medline.

    If only the IEPA had more resources it might have caught Medline spewing carcinogenic ethylene oxide into the Lake County air sooner.

    Don’t get me wrong, the IEPA needs more money to protect us, but another example of how off kilter we are in this country when the people polluting the environment are funding projects at prestigious law schools to study the lack of enforcement against polluters.


  5. - SSL - Wednesday, Nov 27, 19 @ 12:45 pm:

    Get used to it. Taxes and fees will continue to go up while services diminish. And those most in need, with the smallest voices, will feel the greatest pain. Brought to you by the life long corrupt politicians that control Illinois.

    Happy Thanksgiving.


  6. - Lefty Lefty - Wednesday, Nov 27, 19 @ 1:28 pm:

    I’ve worked with the Illinois EPA, mainly the Bureau of Land, for over 25 years as an environmental consultant on everything mentioned in the section describing this Bureau. I used to think they were trying their best, but I can’t honestly say that anymore. I don’t know what motivates them to make the decisions they do.

    I’ve also worked with the Bureau of Water over the same years, mainly on the same side of the table, and the destruction of the workforce and the subsequent decline in morale is just depressing.

    One last observation: from 2004 to 2018, the Illinois EPA’s appropriation ranged from $279 million to $395 million with the lows from 2008 to 2014. During the entire 2004-2018 period, staff declined EVERY YEAR. How does that happen? Who’s in charge?


  7. - Klaus von Bülow - Wednesday, Nov 27, 19 @ 1:50 pm:

    When DCEO grant programs were shuttered the landfill tipping fees were given to IEPA to administer those grants. To this day no grants have been awarded and there is no process to apply for these funds.

    Why the Governor appointed an enabler to these problems was disappointing. It be further interesting how all IEPA funds are administered.


  8. - Anonanonsir - Wednesday, Nov 27, 19 @ 1:51 pm:

    Kudos for the coverage of this.


  9. - Going nuclear - Wednesday, Nov 27, 19 @ 2:07 pm:

    It’s going to take much more than increased funding and headcount to get IEPA back on track. Unfortunately, the Governor opted to keep most of the management team from the previous administration in place. What is desperately needed at IEPA is new leadership that provides more innovative thinking, planning and outreach.


  10. - Klaus von Bülow - Wednesday, Nov 27, 19 @ 2:18 pm:

    In most cases better enforcement of state regulations funds could be levied to pay for the enforcement services. Most of these regulatory agency IDPFR, Dept Insurance, EPA and Commerce Commission have revolving funds. The focus on head count can be counter productive in these cases.


  11. - Whatever - Wednesday, Nov 27, 19 @ 2:23 pm:

    ==During the entire 2004-2018 period, staff declined EVERY YEAR. How does that happen? ==

    The hollowing out of management started with Blago and continued with Quinn, and then got worse with Rauner. Go back to the story the other day of how merit comp workers (i.e., the ones at the top) are getting pay raises for the first time in a decade.


  12. - Name Withheld - Wednesday, Nov 27, 19 @ 2:24 pm:

    If only we had more automation to fix this problem.


  13. - Truthteller - Wednesday, Nov 27, 19 @ 3:38 pm:

    Beancounter control of the IEPA destroyed the agency, 100s of personnel left yearly as they no longer could do their jobs. The exodus was unparalleled and the once highly respected IEPA became a joke. I know all too well as I saw it first hand


  14. - Lefty Lefty - Wednesday, Nov 27, 19 @ 3:42 pm:

    I agree with everything you have said about management there. I’m not hopeful for any near-term solutions.

    Happy Thanksgiving!


  15. - Makes me sad - Wednesday, Dec 4, 19 @ 6:27 pm:

    Also a former epa employee left for better treatment. The 3rd floor is notorious for favoritism- if a savvy reporter followed the history of folks who advanced or mysteriously stay at an elevated position along with family connections they could figure out what the problem is. It’s right there in their lap.


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