IDNR initiates further reforms to advance regulatory transparency

Efforts will increase public participation, strengthen controls within the agency

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[April 10, 2014]  SPRINGFIELD Illinois Department of Natural Resources Director Marc Miller has announced significant reforms to further improve transparency and strengthen regulations in the department's Office of Mines and Minerals. These reforms continue the effort to rebuild and renew IDNR that the administration of Gov. Pat Quinn began with Miller's appointment in 2009.

"The reforms being announced (April 3) are the most recent steps to further restore the integrity of this agency and allow for more public participation as we work towards becoming a national model for transparency," Miller said.

Last week the IDNR committed to several reforms designed to improve transparency and public participation in the coal permitting process. The department also announced several other concrete steps that will further advance the process.

These reform initiatives include:

  • Increased inspections of all coal ash impoundments: In the wake of recent failures of coal ash impoundments in North Carolina and West Virginia, resulting in contamination, IDNR's Office of Water Resources will visually inspect all coal ash impoundments in Illinois for structural integrity to protect our natural resources.

  • Strengthen internal oversight of permit applications: The IDNR has added a position of general counsel to the Office of Mines and Minerals to specifically focus on matters related to the Illinois statutes and regulations related to coal and aggregate mining, blasting and explosives, mine safety, and abandoned mined lands reclamation. All permits will be reviewed against legal standards by the general counsel for the Office of Mines and Minerals before submission to the director of that office.

  • Additional public oversight added to state boards on mining, oil and gas: The IDNR proposes that two additional appointed members be added to the State Mining Board and that two additional members be added to the State Oil and Gas Board. Each board would add two representatives of the general public who have no financial interest in mining or oil or gas operations in the state of Illinois.

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  • Improved information collection: The IDNR has redesigned and updated the oil and gas permit application, which will improve the information exchange process and allow the agency to better collect and review information from applicants.

  • Conflict-of-interest policy update: The IDNR is strengthening its conflict-of-interest policy throughout the agency in order to provide more specific guidance to employees with respect to prohibited acts and areas of potential or apparent conflict.

During the past year, Miller, the IDNR director, separated the Office of Oil and Gas from the Office of Mines and Minerals, making the Office of Oil and Gas Resource Management a distinct regulatory office. The move significantly improved the office's regulatory ability, resulting in a major increase in penalties imposed against oil and gas companies. In the last six months of 2013, the office collected more than triple the number of fines that were levied on oil and gas companies in the previous 36 months.

Within the Office of Mines and Minerals, the IDNR has expanded the use of federal Abandoned Mined Lands funding to support 17 new staff positions, including mine inspectors.

[Text from Illinois Department of Natural Resources file received from the Illinois Office of Communication and Information]

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