Report: Illinois EPA Staff Has Been Cut in Half and That Risks Public Health

Johnathan Hettinger December 13, 2019

This graphic shows the annual staff headcount of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency from 2003 to 2018. During that period, the number of employees at the agency declined by nearly 50%.

Edi­tor’s Note: This sto­ry was orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished on the Mid­west Cen­ter for Inves­tiga­tive Reporting.

The state’s lack of invest­ment in the Illi­nois Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency is putting cit­i­zens at increased risk of pub­lic health issues, accord­ing to a report released by a group of experts on Nov. 26.

The report, enti­tled Pro­tect­ing the Illi­nois EPA’s Health, so that It Can Pro­tect Ours,” found that staffing at the agency has been cut in half since 2003 and, as a result, inspec­tions of pol­lut­ing facil­i­ties, mon­i­tor­ing of water qual­i­ty and enforce­ment of envi­ron­men­tal vio­la­tions have decreased. The report was pub­lished by the Abrams Envi­ron­men­tal Law Clin­ic at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go, with input from for­mer IEPA leaders.

The report high­light­ed the issues with the agency in order to call for a renewed invest­ment to restore the agency back to where it was 15 years ago. In 2003, the IEPA had 1,265 employ­ees. In 2018, the agency had 639.

The decline has been con­sis­tent and grad­ual, the report showed.

There are real prob­lems at the Illi­nois Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency,” said Mark Tem­ple­ton, clin­i­cal pro­fes­sor of law and direc­tor of the Abrams Envi­ron­men­tal Law Clin­ic at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go, and an author of the report. 

The Illi­nois EPA appre­ci­ates the report’s acknowl­edge­ment of some of the chal­lenges faced by state gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tors. Like many Illi­nois state agen­cies, head­count and resources have decreased steadi­ly over a num­ber of years and under a num­ber of direc­tors and admin­is­tra­tions,” said Illi­nois EPA Spokes­woman Kim Big­gs in an emailed state­ment on Nov. 27. The Pritzk­er Admin­is­tra­tion and the Illi­nois EPA have been active­ly work­ing to boost hir­ing, find cre­ative ways to increase rev­enues, and effec­tive­ly enforce envi­ron­men­tal laws and regulations.”

In 2018, the Mid­west Cen­ter for Inves­tiga­tive Report­ing pub­lished an analy­sis of staffing cuts that showed few­er inspec­tions were being con­duct­ed, few­er vio­la­tion notices were being issued and cas­es referred to the Attor­ney Gen­er­al had decreased sig­nif­i­cant­ly. The sto­ry was foot­not­ed in the report.

They don’t have the resources to do every­thing they need to do,” said Doug Scott, who served as IEPA Direc­tor from 2005 to 2011 when the employ­ee head­count declined from 1,119 to 923. Scott said, dur­ing the decline, the agency has also assumed more respon­si­bil­i­ties, as the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment rolls back the U.S. EPA.

The Illi­nois EPA has post­ed 161 posi­tions this year, accord­ing to the agency. Between 2013 and 2017, 276 posi­tions were post­ed. The agency also said they plan to hire a new staff per­son to over­see recruit­ment and retention.

The report took about a year to com­pile, Tem­ple­ton said.

The authors argue the IEPA needs to get on bet­ter foot­ing by increas­ing fees on pol­luters, imple­ment­ing new sources of rev­enue and a staffing plan to increase time­ly hiring. 

Oth­er issues high­light­ed by the report show that inspec­tions of air pol­lu­tant emit­ting facil­i­ties have declined by 81 per­cent since 2003, and near­ly 85 per­cent of riv­er and stream miles and more than 50 per­cent of lake, reser­voir and pond areas have not been assessed for health. 

Mary Gade, who served as IEPA direc­tor from 1991 to 1999, said the agency’s work is about life and death.” The agency has not received any gen­er­al appro­pri­a­tions from the state since 2003, when the decline start­ed. The decline has con­tin­ued under both Demo­c­ra­t­ic and Repub­li­can administrations.

This is both a wake-up call and a call to action, to take notice and to take action,” Gade said. The slow grad­ual decline needs to be reversed and reversed quickly.”

The Mid­west Cen­ter for Inves­tiga­tive Report­ing is a non­prof­it, online news­room offer­ing inves­tiga­tive and enter­prise cov­er­age of agribusi­ness, Big Ag and relat­ed issues through data analy­sis, visu­al­iza­tions, in-depth reports and inter­ac­tive web tools. Vis­it us online at www​.inves​ti​gatemid​west​.org

Johnathan Het­tinger is a jour­nal­ist based in Liv­ingston, Mon­tana. Orig­i­nal­ly from Cen­tral Illi­nois and a grad­u­ate of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Illi­nois, he has worked at the Mid­west Cen­ter for Inves­tiga­tive Report­ing, the Liv­ingston Enter­prise and the (Cham­paign-Urbana) News-Gazette. Con­tact Johnathan at jhett93@​gmail.​com and fol­low him on Twit­ter @jhett93.
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