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Indiana legislature to handcuff environmental protection?

2014 Indiana legislature considers bills to curb environmental protection
2014 Indiana legislature considers bills to curb environmental protection
Lani Ethridge

The perennial attempt to rid the state of pesky environmental regulations is up for consideration in the Indiana legislature. On Jan. 28, 2014, the Indiana House passed a bill, along party lines, that would bar Indiana regulators from adopting environmental rules that are stricter than federal standards.

House Bill 1143 mandates that state requirements “may not be more stringent” than federal law. The bill is now pending in the Indiana Senate’s Environmental Affairs Committee where State Sen. Ed Charbonneau of Valparaiso (Rep.) is the chairman. According to a report appearing in the Northwest Indiana Times on Feb. 11, Charbonneau said that he will decide by Thursday, Feb. 13, whether to hold a hearing on the bill, and if a hearing is held, it would be held on Monday, Feb. 17. The bill must be approved by committee before it could move on to the full Senate for a vote.

In an opinion published in the Indianapolis Star (and other news outlets), Jesse Kharbanda, executive director of the Hoosier Environmental Council, argued that this bill would weaken the state’s ability to protect its citizens from environmental hazards in areas where the federal government has failed to act or has responded inadequately, such as hazards from coal ash or from chemical/ coal waste spills. Indiana Dept. of Environmental Management employees might be afraid to enforce laws to protect the environment for fear they would violate the ‘no more stringent’ law. Kharbanda urged citizens to contact their legislators to oppose HB 1143 and any similar bills.

Other bills have also been proposed in the Indiana legislature that would weaken environmental protections under the guise of protecting farming or other rights. Senate Bill 186, along with its companion, House Bill 1200, would give factory farms a defense against charges of environmental or health damages, such as claims of harm from manure lagoons/ large hog farms.

The governor of Indiana, Mike Pence, recently placed a full page advertisement in the Sunday edition of the New York Times declaring that Indiana is a state that works for businesses. According to a Jan. 23, 2014, report on Portage.com, it’s all part of a larger campaign to tout Indiana as a pro-business state. Constituents may want to remind their elected representatives that welcoming businesses to Indiana does not require the state to ditch its duty to protect its non-business citizens from the hazards of environmental pollution.

To locate your representative or senator in the Indiana legislature:

Determine the identity of your state representative or your state senator by consulting the maps on the Indiana General Assembly website, which also provides links to current legislation and bills. The legislative contact page provides an email address for each representative and senator.

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