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Sunday, February 03, 2013

Ind. Law - "Utility users: Watch legislature carefully"

The Indianapolis Star had this letter from Kerwin Olson, Executive director Citizens Action Coalition, on page B9 today, but I was unable to find an online link:

The fate of monthly utility bills and the future of Indiana energy policy will be a hot topic of discussion during the 2013 session of the Indiana General Assembly.

Once again, the proposed coal-to-gas plant to be built in Rockport by Indiana Gasification will be the subject of legislation. Two companion bills, SB 510 authored by Sen. Doug Eckerty, R-Yorktown, and HB 1515 authored by Rep. Suzanne Crouch, R-Evansville, promise to protect consumers from what is certain to be excessive charges for the substitute natural gas to be produced by the proposed facility. By making this legislation the law of our state, captive Hoosier ratepayers will be protected from being gouged by an Enron like scheme that promises hefty returns for a privately held, out-of-state hedge fund.

Conversely, SB 560 authored by Sen. Brandt Hershman, R-Monticello, guarantees that gas and electric ratepayers will face enormous increases in their bills as the legislation eliminates regulatory protections consumers are entitled to. SB 560 will shift almost all of the costs and risk of operating a utility company to ratepayers and away from investors. Additionally, SB 560 would allow utilities to raise rates virtually automatically and would further reduce regulatory oversight by placing unreasonable time restrictions on both the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission and the Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor to review requests by utilities to raise your rates.

Should SB 560 become law, utility profits will become excessive as they will have little incentive to control costs while more expensive, risky and obsolete technologies will continue to be chosen over cheaper, cleaner and less risky alternatives.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on Sunday, February 03, 2013
Posted to Indiana Government | Indiana Law

Environment - "Environmental protection? It gets cold reception in Statehouse"

So writes Dan Carpenter today in his Sunday Indianapolis Star column. Some quotes:

Beverly Gard was not quite the darling of environmentalists in her many years as a state senator, but the Greenfield Republican distinguished herself as a mainstay on some major issues in that realm.

She favored close oversight of large confined livestock breeding operations to weed out bad actors. She rebuffed efforts by members of her own party to prevent the state from adopting any environmental rules that were stricter than the federal ones, pointing out that Indiana has particular threats to health (such as mercury and lead) for which federal rules are too weak or nonexistent.

That was then. Gard is gone. She retired after the 2012 session. In the 2013 session, a key lawmaker has refiled the no-more-stringent-than-the-feds measure that Gard called "absolutely the worst piece of environmental legislation that I've seen for a long, long time."

That lawmaker is Rep. David Wolkins, R-Winona Lake, chairman of the House Environmental Affairs Committee.

And what of the so-called factory farms that have generated so much revenue along with so much consternation from neighbors and watchdogs of water, air and soil quality and animal welfare? They are the subject of proposed constitutional amendments intended to insulate them from lawsuits and government interference. * * *

[Environmentalists] contend, for example, that large livestock producers are inadequately scrutinized by the state for waste management, and they point out that air pollution from the operations isn't covered by either state or federal law. Yet there are no bills in the hopper to address those concerns; to the contrary, a legislature influenced by strong agribusiness lobbies is considering several "right to farm" proposals aimed specifically at disarming their critics -- including local zoning boards. As Kharbanda sees it, "People in rural Indiana would be stripped of their right to protect themselves."

Also today, the Indianapolis Star has a lengthy, front-page story by Ryan Sabalow and Tim Evans headed "INDOT official benefited from his and his family's sales of land along I-69 route" The story focuses on Troy Woodruff, a one-term state representative, who is now a high official at the Indiana Department of Transportation. Along the way, for a short time he held a high level position with IDEM:
The I-69 land sales aren't the first time Woodruff, who served in the legislature from 2005 to 2007, has been accused of mixing family and state business.

When he was a legislator in 2005, some cried foul after his wife was hired for an unadvertised job at INDOT, saying it was a reward from Daniels for Woodruff's controversial vote supporting daylight saving time.

Voters, angry that Woodruff flip-flopped on a promise to oppose daylight saving time, turned him out of office in the next election. He worked for a time in the private sector. Then, in 2008, he ended up in a state job. He was named director of the southwest region of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management despite having no formal environmental training. The job was not publicly advertised and, according to state personnel records, was filled "on a noncompetitive basis."

After Woodruff took over as director of the Vincennes INDOT region a year later, a nepotism complaint was filed with the Inspector General's office. Woodruff's mother had been hired at the office he oversaw.

Woodruff, who declined to comment on his mother's hiring, said he landed his jobs because of his experience. Before being elected to the legislature at age 33, he was a congressional staffer. Plus, he possesses qualities that might not show up on a resume.

"One of the strengths that I have is the ability to be able to lead a group of people in a positive direction to get positive results," he said. "I feel like I've been able to do that throughout my life and career."

Woodruff since has been promoted to chief of staff, reporting directly to INDOT's commissioner. His last reported salary was $103,366 a year.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on Sunday, February 03, 2013
Posted to Environment | Indiana Government