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Bill limiting environmental rules heads to Indiana Senate

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Indiana regulators would be barred from adopting environmental rules tougher than federal standards under a bill that's advancing in the General Assembly that has drawn criticism that it would hamper efforts to protect the state's environment and public health.

The Republican-controlled Indiana House passed the bill Tuesday on a 68-28 vote. The measure, which now heads to the Senate, would bar Indiana's environmental regulators "from adopting a rule or standard that is more stringent than" corresponding federal rules or standards.

State Rep. David Wolkins, R-Winona Lake, said the measure he's offered for several years is aimed at curtailing future actions by state regulators he fears could someday pursue environmental regulations that would be costly to Indiana's industries.

"Political appointees come and go. And if we get somebody who is a very rabid environmentalist, the fact is, they just don't pay any attention to the cost of things," he said Wednesday.

But Beverly Gard, a former Republican state senator who now heads Indiana's Environmental Rules Board that handles rule-making for air, water and solid-waste regulations, said the measure is "bad public policy" and would bind the hands of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

Gard said existing state law already details what steps must be taken if rules are proposed that are more stringent than existing U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards.

If the bill passes the Legislature, she said it could have numerous ramifications, including limiting what rules IDEM could propose to address the large amounts of manure produced by the state's big livestock farms.

"The current statue seems to me to be working, and Indiana hasn't had a history of really going overboard on environmental rule-making as far as rules more stringent than federal standards," Gard said. "I think it's bad public policy. It just wouldn't allow Indiana the flexibility to meet its needs."

State Sen. Ed Charbonneau, a Valparaiso Republican who's sponsoring the bill in the Senate, said he hasn't looked closely at the measure's language but will be assessing it in the weeks ahead and will take Gard's concerns into account.

He chairs the Senate's environmental affairs committee, which Gard had long chaired until her retirement in 2012.

"We'll vet it, give it a hearing. I'm certainly going to listen, and then we'll make a decision on where we go after we have testimony in the committee," Charbonneau said.

Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, who spoke out against the bill before Tuesday's vote, said he believes the measure arose from a push by industries and affiliated lobbying groups that want to limit environmental regulations.

Pierce noted that Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, vetoed a similar measure in December 2011 that had been approved by that state's GOP-led Legislature. Snyder had said he worried that measure would undermine Michigan's ability to address environmental concerns.

Pierce said Indiana's bill is likely to pass the Senate even though he believes it "isn't motivated by the idea of maximizing the protection of the public health."

"I don't see why we should fear our own state deciding what's best for our people and our environment," he said.

Jesse Kharbanda, executive director of the Hoosier Environmental Council, said the group strongly opposes Wolkins' bill. He said that if the measure becomes law it would hamstring the state's response to environmental concerns such as coal ash sludge and large factory-style livestock farms.

"Especially in the wake of the so recent, massive chemical spill in West Virginia, which denied 300,000 people drinking water for days, it's remarkably unwise to effectively disable Indiana's executive branch to deal with a wide array of environmental challenges," Kharbanda said.

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  • who cares about polution
    Dump and pollute at will. The only way we will see the need to protect the environment to to experience a real disaster similar to the river spill in West Virginia. Remember that citizens no longer count. We elect these folks and they do what they want. Get over it. And we should expect the Feds to look out for Indiana!? Dump and pump while you can. Lead, biohazzards, who cares. Do it while you can.
  • States' Rights
    I don't want the federal government telling my state what to do (except when it comes to civil rights). This is a federal system of government not a unitary system like France. Chicago Region V has no invested interested in protecting out health. That's why. States implement federal rules. The federal government depends on the state for implementation and interpretation.
  • a little more complex than that
    In many cases, the regulated entities do not have to deal with regulation from both the EPA and the state. The EPA gives the state the authority to carry out EPA regulations, we incorporate their standards into our state regulations, and the businesses only have to deal with the state. Also, the EPA is much harsher on regulated entities than IDEM, and it is to the business's benefit that they only have to deal with the state.
  • presents
    Also, if Mr. Charbonneau lets that bill through his committee, he can except some wastes on this lawn that Indiana regulates but the EPA does not.
  • A work of ignorance
    This sort of bill is a perfect example of lawmakers creating a bill that sounds good in theory, but in practice this bill is not in the best interest of Indiana's citizens and environment. The EPA does not know what is best for Indiana's environment and we have concerns here that are not of importance to people in Washington. Why would we rely on the vilified EPA to decide what is best for Indiana's environment? For example, Indiana has state-specific regulation on used tires and electronic waste, but the feds do not. Without those regulations, we would have massive piles of tires that creating dangerous fires and electronic waste going into landfills and polluting our water (well, more than we already have). In addition, these items have value on the market. This sort of measure takes away state power and requires us to rely on the federal government. How does this align with Republican principles of small government and independence and federalism? Why would Indiana want to make itself more dependent on the federal government? How does that make any sense? In reality, this bill is a gift for the corporations that line Mr. Wolkins pockets. Beyond the rhetoric, we all know this was pushed by some businesses afraid of having to clean up the mess that they create. Also, I am wondering if we citizens have some way to protect ourselves from rabid lawmakers incapable of understanding anything more complex than a picture book.
    • Shame!
      Shame on the Indiana House. Why in the world do we want to pass laws like this, which, in effect, are saying: "Whatever we do, let's make sure that we're never better than any other state or than the national average." Who elects these guys, anyway?
    • Why Be Different?
      I'm not saying the EPA has their ducks all in a row here, but let's look at the big picture a moment. What exactly does Indiana face in terms of environmental issues or challenges that aren't seen in other states? My point is that adhering to multiple redundant sets of regulations on the same things is just multiplying the costs of compliance. I'm no fan of big government either, and overlapping regulatory bodies at different levels seems wasteful. Would it not make more sense for states and industries to follow one set of regs across the board? I would think clean air and water are important to everyone wherever they live, so Federal regulations should be in place to ensure those things across the country. It should be no more acceptable to pollute White River here than the Kennebec in Maine, for example. Coal ash is bad everywhere...our coal ash isn't special.
      • let's save some money
        Why don't we just eliminate the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.
        • Runnin' scared
          "I don't see why we should fear our own state deciding what's best for our people and our environment,". The fear comes from losing the campaign dollars from those interested in operating with no accountability or supervision.
        • $$$
          This insanity has to stop. Indiana is becoming the toilet of the nation.
        • Thanks for caring about public safety so much!
          Thank you Indiana Legislators! I appreciate you making corporate profits a much higher priority than public safety. In fact, you go so far as degrade public safety for the sake of corporate profits. Bravo!! Now we can be certain to meet the great fate of West Virginia and have to rely on bottled water to bathe once you are successful in polluting our water supply beyond repair. I can't wait!!
        • Legislating Goofballs Are At It Again
          Legislators seem to think they know better even when they are out of the league or sphere of knowledge. These goofballs are an anathema to science and logic. I have no confidence that our current legislature will do the right thing.
        • Legislators think they know best
          Why don't our legislators try being better at their own job before telling other people how to do theirs? Indiana's environmental regulators are experts in their fields; lawmakers are not experts in environmental regulation, no matter how much David Wolkins thinks he is.
        • Consistant
          The only thing for sure in Indiana is backwardness. Power to the Plutocrats. Indiana is fly over territory...the only problem is you can't even see it for the dirty air.
        • A new dump
          Sounds like Winona lake is a good place to dump your waste now since Wolkins doesn't think we need environmental regulation. You can drop off your old car tires at Charbonneau's front lawn. Let's just nuke the place and be done with it.
        • To H with environment
          This is Indiana. we don't care about the environment. We are one of the most polluted states in the nation. And Indiana marches backward AGAIN

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