Environmental bill gets Senate hearing, awaits vote

The future remains uncertain for a proposed limit on Indiana's authority to make its own environmental policies.

The Senate Environmental Affairs Committee heard hours of testimony Monday on House Bill 1082, which has already passed the House. The bill’s sponsor and committee chairman, Ed Charbonneau, a Republican from Valparaiso, said he has not decided on a next step or talked to anyone outside the committee about the measure.

Under the proposal, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management would not be allowed to make local rules tougher than similar federal laws. IDEM is currently responsible for making state rules to regulate pollution and waste management.

The proposal is backed by manufacturing groups as well as coal and petroleum conglomerates that say they want a standard set of rules to comply with no matter where they are.

"Our members want consistency across the state as much as we can get," said Andrew Berger, vice president of government affairs for the Indiana Manufacturers Association. "When we are implementing rules, which we already have to do, we just want that to be standard across as many jurisdictions as possible."

Supporters also argue that potential overreach would hinder economic development, although they had no specific complaints about current laws.

"I would say the system is working today," said Fred Mills, director of government affairs for the Indiana Energy Association. "This is not about what is happening today. This is about what could happen."

Businesses fear IDEM's leadership could be reshuffled by a future Democratic governor who may be less inclined to give businesses a break. IDEM's Environmental Rules Board, which makes the policies, has 16 members including 11 appointed by the governor.

IDEM would not comment on the pending legislation.

Environmental activists say IDEM needs to maintain authority to address the state's unique environmental challenges.

"It would put the residents of Indiana at risk and leave the ability to protect them in the hands of a slow moving federal agency that is significantly less familiar with the issues in the state," said Grace Miller, lobbyist with the Indiana Friends Committee on Legislation.

Tim Maloney, policy director at the Hoosier Environmental Council, which opposed the bill, also said the measure would discourage state employees from acting on environmental issues due to fear of litigation.

In the past, similar bills have passed the House but never moved in the Senate.

 Charbonneau said pressure on both sides of the debate has increased. He said that contributed to his decision to give the bill hearing. But it is unclear when and if the bill will get a committee vote.

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