Hoosier Environmental Council monitoring three bills in General Assembly

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The state’s largest green group is seeking changes to a handful of bills in the Indiana General Assembly that it says could strip funding and oversight for environmental protection.

One such measure opposed by the Hoosier Environmental Council, Senate Bill 311, would require the state’s Office of Management and Budget to prepare a cost-benefit analysis of each environmental rule for the first three years after which the rule was adopted.

Kharbanda Kharbanda

The analysis would be submitted to the governor and to the administrative rules oversight committee no later than six months after the third anniversary of the rule.

The bill, by Sen. Brandt Hershman, D-Monticello, comes amid a cascade of tougher environmental rules proposed by the Obama administration on everything from greenhouse gases to nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide to cooling-water intakes and discharges.

Electric utility ratepayers will shoulder the brunt of pollution-control upgrade costs.

“We do a lot of predictive modeling on the impact of rules. At some point, it makes sense to do a look-back,” said Hershman. “I think it’s, frankly, good government.”

HEC isn’t necessarily opposing such a review but says the three-year time frame is too narrow a perspective.

“Those first three years are when a company is going to spend a disproportionate amount of money to comply with a rule,” said Jesse Kharbanda, executive director of the Hoosier Environmental Council.

Many of the benefits don’t accrue in those initial years but rather are measured over several years out, he said. Thus, the three-year window “provides a distorted view” that overestimates costs and underestimates benefits.

Hershman counters that three years should be enough time to begin to assess the effects of a rule.

“Some things may be apparent in a much shorter period of time,” he said.

HEC has been seeking to extend the time period of the view and to specify that a review would look at benefits in specific categories, such as public health and tourism.

Although the time frame for the cost-benefit analysis can be debated, the general idea of such a study is appropriate, said Patrick Bennett, vice president of environmental, energy and infrastructure at the Indiana Manufacturers Association.

He noted that companies have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on pollution-control upgrades, yet it’s often difficult later to quantify whether such investments were justified.

“A lot of rules are ‘never heard from again,’” Bennett said. “It’s a good idea to look back and see what is happening.”

Among other measures on the radar is SB 130, which would consolidate the state’s air, water and solid waste boards into a single entity known as the environmental rules board.

The resulting board would have 16 members, including ex-officio members such as the lieutenant governor and the secretary of commerce.

The boards that would be replaced now have a total of 38 board members.

HEC is concerned that the measure by Sen. Beverly Gard, R-Greenwood, would result in a consolidated board lacking expertise to evaluate complicated and diverse environmental regulations, “something of a rubber stamp for Indiana state government.”

The existing boards spend less than $10,000 a year, which environmental groups assert is not a compelling reason for consolidation.

The smaller overall number of members of the consolidated board would likely result in a board composed more of generalists not able to meaningfully interpret complex IDEM documents, Kharbanda said.

Also of concern to HEC is Gard’s SB 210, which would eliminate property taxes as a funding source for solid-waste management districts.

The districts obtain 37 percent of their revenue from property taxes. According to the Legislative Services Agency, the 34 solid-waste management districts last year tapped $20.7 million in property taxes.

The districts are responsible for such things as recycling programs, household hazardous waste collection sites and electronic waste collection.•

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