New IDEM official lacks environmental background

An Iraqi war veteran is drawing scrutiny from environmental advocates who question whether his work experience is appropriate
to his new job as a top state environmental adviser.

Kent Abernathy, who was appointed by Gov. Mitch Daniels, began
work Monday as chief of staff for Indiana Department of Environmental Management Commissioner Thomas Easterly.

Abernathy
has worked as a banker and business consultant and spent six years as an Army colonel. He was stationed in Baghdad, supervising
a crisis team responsible for tracking Army operations worldwide and providing guidance for U.S. teams training Iraqi security
forces.

But his resume does not include any environmental experience, which troubles advocate Glenn Pratt.

Pratt, a former assistant commissioner at IDEM, said Abernathy seems well qualified for a managerial position.

"But what is his knowledge on environmental and human health issues that he can make all these high-level recommendations?
That would be my concern," Pratt said.

IDEM spokeswoman Amy Hartsock said an environmental background isn’t
required for the position.

"Mr. Abernathy will be serving as chief of staff, for which practical business
experience is necessary; because he won’t be serving as a program assistant commissioner, environmental experience is not
necessary," she told the Post-Tribune in an e-mail.

Abernathy’s new job includes preparing speeches and talking
points for Easterly and making recommendations for programs and procedures and executing them.

"Basically,
to me, the commissioner works for this person," said Pratt, who now works for the Hoosier Chapter of the Sierra Club.

"If you’re managing their priorities including design and execution of projects and initiatives, that sounds
like someone at the highest level and (who) should have a thorough knowledge of the science behind these programs and the
regulatory requirements."

Tom Anderson, executive director of Save the Dunes Council, said a chief of staff
could help prioritize work at IDEM, which is defending itself against a petition filed by a coalition of environmental groups.

The groups want the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to address what they say are flaws in Indiana’s pollution
rules that don’t meet Clean Water Act standards.

Abernathy will be paid $95,000 a year.

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