Toni Hardesty 

Protecting Idaho's air, water and land.

Tonya Jones grew up in Kimberly, Idaho. Most everyone has called her Toni since she was a little girl. She met Doug Hardesty in 1987 and they married a year later. Today, Toni Hardesty is director of the Department of Environmental Quality. Working with a decreasing staff count and a shrinking budget, the DEQ continues to safeguard Idaho's air, land and water.

How big is the department this year?

We have about 340 employees statewide, the smallest number since we became an agency in 2000.

What is your proposed budget for fiscal year 2012?

Approximately $61.6 million with 58 percent coming from federal funds, 23 percent coming from state general funds and 19 percent from dedicated funds.

What does state primacy mean?

The federal government has environmental regulations that all states have to comply with. That's for air quality, water quality and a number of other environmental programs. We have to meet the minimum federal standards. The state issues permits and negotiates compliance agreements. Idaho has had that primacy for many years. If we can't meet those minimum requirements, the feds are going to come in and take over.

Many of our programs are maintained by something called maintenance of effort-matching funds. If we don't meet that effort, you have to give the money back to the feds, making the problem even worse.

What's the risk of losing that?

On the matching funds for air quality we're very close. The closest we've ever been. On the primacy issue, our biggest challenge is with water quality monitoring. Two years ago, the Legislature suspended our monitoring for what we thought would be one year. The suspension continued the next year. So now, if we don't do it this coming year, it could be three years without any survey of hundreds of lakes, rivers and tributaries. The Clean Water Act says this is a responsibility. We have to submit a biannual report on the status of our waters. If we haven't been monitoring, it's going to be very hard to provide that report.

Is the auto emissions testing program in Canyon County a success?

Yes. The reality is that, in fact, we are identifying what we call "gross emitters," vehicles that are exceeding the standards. And those vehicles are getting fixed. When that occurs, the air quality improves.

We've been hearing that quite a few Canyon County vehicles still need to comply.

What's interesting is that if you look at Ada County, the number of registrants that have not complied is pretty much on par with Canyon County. I guess there is a sector of the population that will risk revocation of their registration just for not having their vehicle tested.

I'm sure you know that there are some Idaho legislators who are not fans of this department and would like to see the DEQ gutted.

We've certainly heard from some of them. But if you gut or cut the DEQ, it doesn't mean environmental regulations go away. No matter how much some people may not like working with us, they really don't like working with someone in some far-off federal office.

Are you always working on relationship-building?

Absolutely. Going back to the budget issue, it's one of the hardest arguments to make. Some lawmakers don't necessarily connect the dots when talking about cutting or gutting the DEQ, but in the end they'll get the exact opposite of what they want. Working with our customers, helping them to craft options and comply with regulations takes time, people and resources. Believe me, that takes a lot more time than simply issuing violations and threatening people with penalties. We're committed to working out solutions.

Your staff is doing a lot more with less. It has to be a major challenge to keep them.

The people who work for DEQ are consummate public servants. These are incredible people who keep coming back year after year to serve the public. They haven't had pay raises in years. Plus, they're getting furloughed.

Is that the worst part of your job?

Without a doubt. It's not being able to reward employees or keep their salaries commensurate with their skill sets and expertise.

And what is the best part?

Doing something that I believe makes a huge difference. I don't think a lot of people go to work and by the end of the day, they've done something that really has a positive impact on the state. I get to feel that.

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