HETRICK: If you rely on air and water, you’ll want to read this

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Viewers of “Downton Abbey” have learned a painful lesson this season about the dangers of distraction: While everyone’s attention is focused elsewhere, a dastardly deed might be done—one with long-lasting and mushrooming repercussions.

On “Downton,” the crime is rape.

The victim is one of the sweetest women on the show, a lady’s maid named Anna. The bad guy is an outsider, the valet of a visitor from the big city. The distraction is a performance by an opera star. The rich folks who live upstairs and the servants who work downstairs are equally enamored.

Anna suffers the immediate consequences of their distraction. And, as the season progresses, the fallout is spiraling.

Art imitates life, of course. So while the cast of “Downton” has been exploring the impact of fictional rape, those affected by Indiana air and water (who isn’t?) may long suffer the consequences of some legislative derring-do.

At the Statehouse, the crime in progress is voluntary bondage—not in the sexual sense, but what Dictionary.com calls “the state of being bound by or subjected to some external power or control.”

The perpetrators in this case are Indiana’s biggest polluters—represented by their advocacy groups and lobbyists.

They also may be influenced by an outsider named ALEC. That’s short for the American Legislative Exchange Council. This Washington, D.C.-based not-for-profit unites legislators with corporate lobbyists (including big polluters) to advocate for legislation, some of which is designed to weaken environmental safeguards.

The victims are Hoosiers statewide and many folks beyond—anyone in-state or downwind breathing Indiana air, and anyone drinking water, taking a bath, breast-feeding a child, fishing a stream, or navigating a lake or river fed by Hoosier waters.

The distraction is HJR-3, a controversial, headline-grabbing proposal that would place a ban on same-sex marriage in the Indiana Constitution.

Now you know the set-up. Here’s what’s happening:

While the mainstream and social media masses have been focused on HJR-3, the Indiana House of Representatives slipped through legislation known as HB-1143.

Advanced by Indiana’s biggest polluters and likely inspired by groups such as ALEC, this bill would prevent Indiana’s administrators and environmental experts from establishing any rules stronger than those imposed by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

This is a law-making gimmick called “more-stringent-than” legislation. It’s been tried by many kinds of lobbyists for many kinds of issues. In this case, it would seriously weaken our state’s rights and likely give the feds more power and control.

It would remove from administrative experts decisions about the safety of our air and water and hand those decisions off to politicians. And why would big polluters want to do this?

Consider this scenario: First, you get states like Indiana to pass “no-more-stringent-than” laws.

Then, if your Washington lobbyists can push through federal rules that allow dirtier air or filthier water than the states’ environmental experts would like, well, tough luck. The states gotta do what Washington tells them to do. And big polluters get a one-size-endangers-all America.

Sadly, the Indiana House of Representatives fell for this. The bill it passed ties our hands. Cuffs us, effectively, to the federal headboard.

This is the same Legislature that says, “We don’t care if America has uniform educational standards. We want our own.”

These are the same lawmakers who say, “We don’t care if same-sex marriage laws are being ruled unconstitutional. We want our own.”

Former Republican State Sen. Beverly Gard, longtime chairwoman of the Senate Environmental Affairs Committee and now head of Indiana’s Environmental Rules Board, says HB-1143 would bind the hands of state officials.

She also said the law is unnecessary.

“The current statute seems to me to be working,” said Gard, “and Indiana hasn’t had a history of really going overboard on environmental rule-making.”

In Michigan, where legislators took the polluters’ bait and passed a similar bill in 2011, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed it, saying the legislation would tie his hands. Eliminate his ability to head off or respond to air and water problems. Take away the flexibility needed to address Michigan-specific needs, including the Great Lakes

In other words, you can’t be “Pure Michigan” if you shackle your state and subject yourself to pure Washington.

So Snyder wisely declined the self-inflicted straitjacket.

The good news in Indiana: There’s still time to kill this bill.

HB-1143 has been assigned to Sen. Ed Charbonneau’s Environmental Affairs Committee. In the interest of states’ rights alone, Charbonneau and Sen. President Pro Tem David Long should let it die there. We have no business tying the hands of today’s administration or future administrations.

If the Senate agrees with the House, however, that we ought to cuff ourselves, then Indiana Gov. Pence should make like Michigan Gov. Snyder and veto this nonsense.

It’s bad enough to have Indiana’s hands tied by Washington. It’s even worse to shackle ourselves and say, “Here we are. Have at us.”•


Hetrick is a writer, public relations consultant and visiting professor of public relations for the IU School of Journalism at IUPUI. He can be reached at bhetrick@ibj.com.

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