Assessing Daniels’ record on the environment

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Mitch Daniels is in his fifth year as governor, enough time to begin accumulating a record on the environment.

How’s he doing? Daniels is making progress but he could do much, much better, says Jesse Kharbanda, executive director of the Hoosier Environmental Council.

Daniels has modernized building codes and called on utilities to aggressively invest in energy efficiency, Kharbanda notes.

But Kharbanda thinks Daniels is failing to live up to his conservative reputation on other points—and Kharbanda views them as big ones.

Pushing through a new-terrain Interstate 69 extension from Evansville to Indianapolis will cost significantly more than the alternative “common sense” route from Indianapolis to Terre Haute on I-70 and then south on U.S. 41, Kharbanda charges. The alternative route would have added only minutes to the drive but prevented a lot of environmental damage.

Daniels also is overlooking opportunities to invest in alternative energy, Kharbanda says. While some wind turbines are finding their way into the state, Kharbanda believes there’s potential for many more. Daniels and his administration seem captivated by coal, possibly the result of powerful coal and utility lobbies in the Statehouse, he says, pointing out that Indiana remains the only state in the Midwest lacking a standard for utilities to buy increasing amounts of electricity from renewable sources.

Yet another concern is how quickly Daniels is pushing regulators to make decisions on pollution permits. Haste can make waste, Kharbanda says.

“So, part of the critique of the Daniels administration is, how conservative is it, really?” Kharbanda asks.

Daniels continues to tamp down speculation he might run for president. If he does decide to jump into the race, it will be interesting to see how the rest of the country sifts his environmental record. Even if he's viewed as more brown than green, voters might turn a blind eye, reasoning a governor could be forgiven for cutting environmental corners to try to revive a sputtering Rust Belt economy.

What are your thoughts on Daniels and the environment?

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