Sierran Masthead

General Assembly Shows No Clear Direction on the Environment

By Bowden Quinn
Hoosier Chapter Lobbyist and Conservation Organizer

The General Assembly, now fully under the control of the Republican Party, has shown no clear direction on environmental issues in the 2005 session. Environmentalists have supported several of the introduced bills while opposing others. On some issues—like open burning—there are conflicting bills.

Here is a summary of a few of the more than 70 introduced bills that could have an impact on the environment. For more information about any of them, call the chapter office at (317) 822-3750 or e-mail me at bowdenq@earthlink.net. The session is scheduled to end on April 29.

Water

One of the most anticipated bills from an environmental viewpoint is Senate Bill (SB) 620, authored by Sen. Beverly Gard, R-Greenfield, the chair of the Senate Energy and Environmental Affairs Committee. It would create a “wet weather use subcategory” to the state’s water quality standards, allowing cities with combined sewer overflows to continue to have discharges to rivers after heavy rains. The new standard would apply only after a city had implemented a long-term control plan designed to minimize such discharges, and the sub-use would only apply for up to four days after the discharge ends. Still, the bill represents the state’s (and the country’s) continued retreat from the 1972 Clean Water Act goal of eliminating pollution and making all waters safe for swimming and fishing wherever possible.

Another worrisome feature of the bill is that it would end the state’s 10-year limit on variances to water quality standards. Multiple variance renewals may be necessary for cities to implement their long-term control plans. Since we don’t have the technology to reduce mercury discharges to safe levels, we might also have to allow multiple variances for it. But complete removal of the variance term limits would remove an incentive for dischargers to find new ways to control or prevent their pollution.

Another bill with mixed blessings is House Bill (HB) 1431, authored by Rep. William Friend, R-Macy. It would take half of the cigarette tax money now going to the Department of Natural Resources and use it to fund Clean Water Indiana. Environmentalists have long supported funding for that program, which would allow soil and water conservation districts to promote practices to protect water bodies, such as vegetative buffer strips. But DNR doesn’t have the money it needs now to maintain our parks and other state land, so taking more money from that agency doesn’t seem like a good idea.

SB 123 (Sen. Allen Paul, R-Richmond) could also help protect our waters. He is still working on the bill, but it might require permit revocation for a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) that had three manure spills to state waters in a two-year period. It is possible that the whole issue of CAFOs’ impact on the environment may go this summer to the Environmental Quality Service Council (EQSC), a legislative study committee.

Bills that could make life easier for CAFO operators include HB 1310 (Rep. Eric Gutwein, R-Rensselaer). It would take control of CAFOs from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) and give it to a newly created Department of Agriculture, which would be expected to treat them with kid gloves. SB 267 (Sen. Robert Jackman, R-Milroy) would change the law on agricultural nuisances to deprive surrounding landowners of a legal recourse if CAFOs take over other types of farming operations. Air

The competing bills on open burning are SB 263 (Sen. Ronnie Alting, R-Lafayette) and HB 1268 (Rep. Phyllis Pond, R-New Haven). The Senate bill would give local health departments the ability to hear complaints about illegal open burning that causes a health hazard. As introduced, the House bill would provide attorney’s fees to people who successfully challenge a citation for improper open burning, thus creating a disincentive for rigorous enforcement of open-burning laws.

Solid Waste

Sen. Gard introduced a bill (SB 279) that would eliminate requirements for solid and hazardous waste applications to demonstrate a need for new facilities and to show that operators have run their other facilities properly (the latter requirement is known as the “good character” law). People from around the state voiced strong opposition to the bill when it was heard in Gard’s committee in January. She may decide to withdraw the bill and put the issue before the EQSC, which she will chair this summer. Another of Gard’s bills expected to receive strong opposition is SB 280, which would allow counties not to be part of a solid waste district.

Rep. David Wolkins, R-Winona Lake, who chairs the House Environmental Affairs Committee, has a bill (HB 1381) that addresses the problem of waste tires. It would increase fees on new tires to one dollar (from the current 25 cents) and use the money to promote tire reuse and recycling, including burning tires as a fuel in cement kilns. The best way to impose the fee is still under discussion. It may be added to vehicle registration fees.

Brownfields

Rep. Wolkins has also introduced a bill (HB 1653) that attempts to make it easier for businesses to get through permitting requirements when locating on a new site. It changes the name of an existing permit assistance center to the “shovel ready site development center.” The bill would also provide immunity from clean-up liability for new property owners who discover previously undetected contamination on their land. Such liability protection is probably necessary to get orphaned brownfield sites back on the tax rolls. Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, introduced SB 181, which would require owners of business structures to have an environmental assessment submitted to local officials before they can demolish the buildings. The bill is an attempt to prevent cities from being left holding the bag of contaminated property, but it doesn’t seem to go far enough to achieve that goal. Energy

Gov. Mitch Daniels apparently wants to make energy policy, rather than allowing the legislature to do it. A representative of the governor spoke against Sen. Gard’s SB 157 at an environmental committee meeting in January. The bill would have created a commission to recommend a state energy policy by the end of 2006. The governor’s representative said that Daniels wants to have Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman’s office direct such an effort. Gard withdrew her bill, which would have required fairly broad public participation and the study of alternative energy sources and conservation.

The governor’s representative assured committee members that the executive branch would have those features in its effort, but the similarity of the approach to Vice-President Dick Cheney’s energy task force is a bit disquieting.

Rep. Steve Heim, R-Culver, introduced HB 1033, which would require the EQSC to study energy issues. Heim also seeks to promote biodiesel made from soybeans in two bills that would provide tax credits (HB 1031) and require state diesel-powered vehicles to use the higher-cost blended fuel (HB 1032). With the state so financially strapped, the chances for those bills appear slim, but they are probably better than the energy bills introduced by Democrats. HB 1642 (Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington) would create a state Sustainable Energy Institute. HB 1603 (Rep. Ryan Dvorak, D-South Bend) would improve existing “net metering” requirements, providing more of an incentive for businesses to use alternative energy sources.

Another energy bill that may be doomed by the state’s fiscal situation is SB 216 (Sen. Greg Server, R-Evansville), which would exempt energy efficient appliances from state sales tax.

Environmental Rulemaking

Rep. Wolkins’ HB 1383 would prevent environmental rulemaking boards from adopting any rule deemed more stringent than federal requirements unless approved by the EQSC and the General Assembly. When the House environmental committee heard the bill in January, Bloomington’s Rep. Pierce asked Wolkins if he really thought the bill was necessary, given the results of the last election.

It appears that the EQSC will become increasingly involved in determining environmental legislation in the years ahead. That body would be made permanent under Gard’s SB 44 and Heim’s HB 1033. Wildlife

Rep. Friend’s HB 1780 would allow deer and other cervids to be privately owned under the supervision of the Department of Agriculture. This bill would permit the private deer-killing operations that have been the subject of much recent debate following the arrest and conviction of the owner of such an operation in the northern part of the state.

Finally, in a stunning display of cross-party cooperation, high -evel wheeling and dealing appear to be in the works to name a state insect. Sen. Rose Ann Antich-Carr, D-Merrillville, introduced SB 39, which would name the federally endangered Karner blue butterfly, which survives in the dunes of Northwest Indiana. Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, preferred the monarch butterfly in SB 546. At the end of January, Antich-Carr and Kruse each coauthored the other’s bill. What that may mean for the butterflies is unknown as of this writing.


Copyright © 2007 Hoosier Chapter Sierra Club, all rights reserved.[04/21/05]efp

Spring 2005