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Governor Mitch Daniels appointed Thomas Easterly as Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Management in January, 2005, based on his achievements, expertise and experience in both the business and environmental realms. Hailing from Carbondale, Illinois, then Valparaiso in northwest Indiana, Commissioner Easterly’s personal interest in understanding the effects of industry on the environment lead him to pursue an education that would enable him to effectuate positive changes in both.
Commissioner Easterly graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, New York in 1970 and four years later, he earned his Master of Science in Urban & Environmental Studies from RPI. In addition to participating in numerous technical conferences and continuing education opportunities since graduation, Commissioner Easterly is a Qualified Environmental Profession (QEP), Diplomat, American Academy of Environmental Engineering and a Professional Engineer, registered in Indiana, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and New York.
After graduation, Easterly entered public service, working for the Capital District Regional Planning Commission in New York. He eventually was appointed to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation where he served as Sanitary Engineer in Air Resources, developing plans and regulations to attain and maintain air quality standards. He was eventually promoted to the Solid & Hazardous Waste department where he managed New York’s residuals management program.
Commissioner Easterly served as a Senior Environmental Engineer for Bethlehem Steel Corporation, the second largest US steel producer at the time, beginning in 1987. As a corporate air expert charged with helping the organization improve its environmental performance, he provided regulatory guidance and compliance assistance. After seven years, he was promoted to Superintendent of Environmental Services, Burns Harbor Division in northwest Indiana, where he assumed responsibility for all environmental and environmental health programs at this 6,000 employee facility. Commissioner Easterly facilitated Bethlehem Steel’s participation as the first steel company to join the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies.
From 2000-2002, Commissioner Easterly worked as the Manager of Environmental Planning and Improvement for NISOURCE, INC, a Fortune 500 utility holding company with over $6 billion in annual sales and providing natural gas and electric services to more than 3.7 million customers. He was responsible for developing sustainable environmental business practices, successfully propelling the organization to become a charter member of the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Environmental Performance Track as well as successful indoctrination as the first U.S. utility to be included in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index.
From 2002 to 2005 Commissioner Easterly served as president of Environmental Business Strategies, Inc., a consulting firm providing high quality environmental technical and regulatory assistance to manufacturing companies. His mission was to help businesses become greener by integrating environmental considerations into their decision making processes.
Articles that Commissioner Easterly has written have been published in Air Pollution Engineering Manual and in publications of the Air and Waste Management Association and Iron and Steel Society. In addition, he has participated and served in leadership roles in numerous professional and community organizations such as the Air and Waste Management Association, Indiana Dunes Environmental Learning Center, Northwest Indiana Regional Planning Commission Environmental Management Policy Committee, Indiana Manufacturers Association and Indiana Chamber of Commerce.
Commissioner Easterly has recognized tremendous success in pursuing three goals he set for the agency: 1) improve the protection of Indiana’s environment; 2) maximize staff efficiency; and 3) eliminate the backlog of unaddressed environmental issues. The Commissioner embarked on addressing these goals immediately upon accepting his post.
When he arrived, over 100 communities were dumping raw sewage into Indiana’s streams; today, over 70 percent of those communities have either fixed the problem or are implementing approved plans to fix problems. Progress continues on the elimination of the remaining 30 percent.
Before taking office, 13 of Indiana’s 92 counties had measured air quality that did not protect public health, but today, the number of counties with unhealthy air quality has been reduced to three and all counties are on track to meet the current health based air quality standards by 2009.
An important tool IDEM uses to limit the amount of potentially harmful discharges to safe levels is an environmental permit. Upon Commissioner Easterly’s arrival to IDEM, he discovered 263 expired wastewater discharge permits; some were 20 years old and not effective in adequately protecting the environment. Since then, aggressive actions have been taken to update 257 of these permits, and the backlog will be eliminated within the next year.
Because some people or businesses do not meet their environmental responsibilities and obligations, IDEM uses legal enforcement to ensure Hoosiers and the environment are properly protected. Commissioner Easterly faced 120 pending enforcement cases over two years old when he came into office and since that time, all of those cases have been resolved in an environmentally protective manner. In addition, Commissioner Easterly implemented policy changes to ensure each new enforcement action is expeditiously pursued and resolved.
Commissioner Easterly is married to Jan and has two adult children, Tom, Jr. and Ted. The Commissioner walks to work from his downtown Indianapolis home everyday to avoid contributing unnecessary ozone emissions into the atmosphere.