A Head Start on the 2003 Legislative Session
Officially, the 2003 state legislative session does not start until January.
This fall, however, saw significantly more action in the legislative study committees. These committees are directed by the legislature to “hear” topics to learn if legislation may be needed.
While we never know what will come out of the legislative barrel, we already have much legislation in the works. The major committees with environmental and natural resource issues are the Environmental Quality Service Council (EQSC), the Water Resources Study Committee (WRSC), and the Natural Resources Study Committee.
The committees try to review and address the issues in the open so that rational bills can be introduced.
The major action was at the EQSC, and its focus was on wetlands. John Ulmer, Hoosier Chapter conservation chair, was the lead on wetlands. There were over 10 official EQSC meetings and many submeetings on wetlands issues alone.
While questions remain to be addressed, at least for now the proposed legislation would assure that the Indiana Department of Environmental Management has full authority to set the expansion of high-quality wetlands and to maintain no net loss of wetlands. Two chapter leaders, Bill Hayden and Sandy Miles, serve on the EQSC and worked on this issue.
Tom Neltner was our lead on the State Revolving (Loan) Fund EQSC action. With the present combined-sewer overflow situation and other environmental needs, there is not adequate money available.
The proposed legislation’s intent is to set up an independent state funding agency that can take federal dollars and expand them through bonds and other means to generate additional funding and set priorities for eligibility.
We also participated in the WRSC and helped push proposed legislation to require the establishment of a state policy on who gets water under drought conditions. We have broad support for our policy proposal. Only the administration questions it for staffing reasons.
We also joined with the broad agricultural community to help get the funding needed to match federal dollars that will address agricultural water pollution problems. Previously the legislature passed, with minimum funding, “Clean Water Indiana” to start focusing on the need for dollars to address agricultural pollution problems.
Along with these priority issues, the Sierra Club supported the state in trying to obtain permit fee increases to hire staff to address critical permitting-related issues.
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