Appropriations Will Be Most Important Legislative Priority
The 1999 session of the Indiana General Assembly is a budget session, and with a $2 billion surplus, legislators and the governor will be trying to decide how to dispose of the money. The Hoosier Chapter of the Sierra Club has some ideas for wise ways to spend a small portion of it.
Public lands acquisition remains a major need for Indiana. With its very small proportion of publicly owned land, the state lacks the flexibility to provide adequately for wildlife habitat and human recreation. Additional staff are needed in the land acquisition branch to buy land in a timely manner.
The Non-Game Wildlife Program has limped along on donations from the non-game tax check off. It is time that the General Assembly put money into this program, at least $100,000 to start.
The Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture should be signing the papers soon to put Indiana into the Forest Legacy Program. This program will allow the state to buy development rights to private forest lands to prevent them from being destroyed. The program will require some matching dollars.
If Indiana is to reduce the sprawl of new factories in farm fields, it needs to make significant amounts of money available to local governments to clean up brownfields, abandoned industrial sites that are sitting empty for fear of contamination. Many brownfields are not being cleaned up because the Office of Environmental Response (OER) in the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) does not have enough staff to evaluate remediation plans. The IDEM Commissioner's solution to this is to merge the OER Office with the Office of Solid and Hazardous Waste. I hope the Environmental Quality Service Council will provide recommendations that will guide the General Assembly.
The IDEM Non-Point Source/ Watershed program has only been funded by the U.S. EPA. The grants awarded to local watershed groups by this program are limited to a maximum of two years. Indiana needs to put some state general fund dollars into this program to expand it and make the grants available longer.
The Office of Water lacks adequate staff to do the stream monitoring and assessment necessary for determining accurate and timely Waste Load Allocations and Total Maximum Daily Loadings (TMDLs) for National Pollution Discharge Elimination Permits (NPDES) and Impaired Stream determinations (the 303d list).
The governor apparently wants to force the General Assembly to direct him to spend the money that is available from NPDES permits. Environmentalists will need to "help" the General Assembly to do this.
A major problem remains with the many sanitary sewers that receive flow from streets during rain storms. The result is that sewage treatment plants cannot handle the flow and are forced to dump the excess contaminated water into streams and rivers. Additional funding for cities to address combined sewer overflow problems needs to be appropriated.
In the last session, a bill was introduced that would have removed the possible felony penalty for the violation of rules adopted by the IDEM boards. I hope that bill will stay dead.
However, several years ago, the General Assembly passed legislation that made criminal violations of environmental laws immune from prosecution if the company discovered the violations through an environmental audit and corrected them. The EPA has finally gotten around to pointing out that this gives the state less authority than the EPA has to protect the environment and is requiring Indiana to repeal this provision.
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