Director of Environmental Health
Robin Ridgway works quietly and diligently behind the scenes to help keep Purdue compliant with a battery of federal and state environmental regulations.
The University's director of environmental health and safety regulatory compliance, Ridgway works with entities across campus to keep them aware of and compliant with air, water and other government regulations.
She also keeps a close eye on impending regulatory legislation at the state and federal levels — and she provides input to lawmakers, when necessary, to make sure Purdue's voice is heard during the lawmaking process.
What environmental regulations apply to the University?
The federal Clean Air Act applies to Purdue, and the West Lafayette campus has a campus-wide air permit under that law. Many of the Wade Utility Plant's operations fall under that permit, but it also includes the campus' emergency generators, the paint shop in Buildings and Grounds, and others. Basically any University support operation that emits "pollutants" into the air is subject to the permit.
Another big category of regulations that the University must follow involves water. For example, the West Lafayette campus holds a federal permit to treat and discharge stormwater, and we have a drinking water permit for the campus's public water supply. Purdue's Animal Sciences Research and Education Center, which is located in Tippecanoe County, also has to abide by water regulations and by regulations covering animal confined feeding operations, too.
How do you help keep Purdue compliant with these regulations?
I work with a wide range of entities across campus to support University operations and to make sure they're compliant with all environmental regulations. In general, I answer a lot of questions and check to make sure that what we're doing falls within our permits. I also apply for new permits or modifications to existing ones to accommodate the changing needs of the campus.
Besides focusing on current regulations, another big part of my job is that I have to get out my crystal ball and try to see what might be coming as far as future regulations. I pay attention to what Congress and state lawmakers are doing in that arena, and if possible I help the University prepare as much as possible for upcoming regulations.
How do you provide input during the lawmaking process?
When regulations are proposed, I often provide comments to the appropriate agency, whether it's the federal Environmental Protection Agency or the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.
A lot of the times those comments are written, but I sometimes give comments over the phone, or I attend meetings with the regulators. Purdue also is a member of the Council of Industrial Boiler Owners, which is a nationwide industrial energy trade organization, and I'm the University's representative in that organization.
In Washington, D.C., I've been to a couple of federal Office of Management and Budget meetings to tell those folks how impending regulations might affect the University. A couple of years ago, as Congress was formulating energy legislation, I testified in front of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce about Purdue's stake in that bill.
Why is it important for federal and state lawmakers to understand how impending regulations will affect Purdue?
Lawmakers often craft regulations with big companies in mind, but they don't understand that universities will be affected, too. It's very important for us to have a seat at the lawmaking table so we can help legislators understand how the laws they propose might affect us.
In general, if we didn't make sure we were represented during the legislative and rulemaking process — and if we just reacted to new laws and regulations instead of taking a proactive approach — we'd have to do a lot of scrambling to plan and finance our compliance. Many universities wait until state regulators come to inspect their operations for compliance. We don't want to do that because not only is it too late in the game to have a say in the implementation of the rule, but it's also likely we would face steep fines for noncompliance.
The most rewarding thing about my job is that I'm helping to protect the University from noncompliance and costly fines, and I'm helping create a long planning horizon for new regulations by keeping on top of regulatory activity. For me, it's all about understanding the whole regulatory process — and trying to see if there's a more innovative and cost-effective way to approach state and federal environmental policy implementation.