Future uncertain for state environmental policy limit

February 16, 2016

The future remains uncertain for a proposed limit on Indiana's authority to make its own environmental policies.

The Senate Environmental Affairs Committee heard hours of testimony Monday on the bill, which has already passed the House. Bill sponsor and committee Chairman Ed Charbonneau, a Republican from Valparaiso, said he has not decided on a next step or talked to anyone outside the committee about the measure.

But in a state dominated by Republicans who favor state sovereignty, the federal government would gain the prerogative to decide the standard for Indiana's environmental policy if the bill becomes law.

Under the measure, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management would not be allowed to make local rules tougher than similar federal laws. IDEM is currently responsible for making state rules to regulate pollution and waste management.

The proposal is backed by manufacturing groups as well as coal and petroleum conglomerates that say they want a standard set of rules to comply with no matter where they are.

"Our members want consistency across the state as much as we can get," said Andrew Berger, vice president of government affairs for the Indiana Manufacturers Association. "When we are implementing rules, which we already have to do, we just want that to be standard across as many jurisdictions as possible."

Supporters also argue that potential overreach would hinder economic development, but they took no issue with Indiana's current law.

"I would say the system is working today," Fred Mills, director of government affairs for the Indiana Energy Association, said. "This is not about what is happening today, this is about what could happen."

And what could happen is IDEM's leadership could be reshuffled by a Democratic governor who is less inclined to give businesses a break. IDEM's Environmental Rules Board, which makes the policies, has 16 members including 11 appointed by the governor.

IDEM would not comment on the pending legislation.

Environmental activists say IDEM needs to maintain authority to address the state's unique environmental challenges.

"It would put the residents of Indiana at risk and leave the ability to protect them in the hands of a slow moving federal agency that is significantly less familiar with the issues in the state," Grace Miller, lobbyist with the Indiana Friends Committee on Legislation, said.

Tim Maloney, policy director at the Hoosier Environmental Council, which opposed the bill, also said the measure would discourage state employees from acting on environmental issues due to fear of litigation.

Similar bills resurfaced in the past several years through the House, but only recently has a proposal to limit Indiana's authority to make its own environmental policies gotten a Senate committee hearing.

Charbonneau said pressure on either side of the debate has increased. He said that contributed to his decision to get the bill heard.

It is unclear when and if the bill will get a committee vote.


Recent Articles by Associated Press