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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Environment - "No more stringent" bill - hearing set for Monday

"Groups unite against environmental rules bill" is the headline to this AP story by Rick Callahan. Some quotes:

A coalition of 16 environmental, health and citizens groups urged Indiana lawmakers Wednesday to reject legislation that would prevent state regulators from adopting environmental rules tougher than federal standards, warning that it would “handcuff” the state in its effort to protect the public health and environment.

A wide range of groups oppose the bill, which passed the Indiana House last month and is scheduled to be heard Monday by the Senate Environmental Affairs Committee.

They include the Hoosier Environmental Council, the Indiana Wildlife Federation, the American Lung Association of Indiana, the Indiana State Medical Association and the nonpartisan League of Women Voters of Indiana.

The bill would hamper the state’s response to coal ash sludge lagoons from Indiana’s coal-fired power plants and large factory-style livestock farms, said Jesse Kharbanda, head of the Hoosier Environmental Council, during a news conference outlining the groups’ opposition.

Kharbanda said the bill “would handcuff” the Indiana Department of Environmental Management by preventing it from enacting safeguards more protective than U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards.

He said the legislation is based on the incorrect assumption that the EPA has “uniformly overreached” on environmental policy. Kharbanda said that in fact, federal environmental policy has big gaps, and some federal regulations are weaker than what Indiana might need to protect public health and the state’s air, water and land.

“This bill weakens the state’s rights. It unilaterally gives up the ability of Indiana’s executive branch to act on areas of environmental law where the EPA has acted inadequately,” he said. * * *

Rosemary Spalding, a former IDEM general counsel who’s now board chair of Earth Charter-Indiana – one of the groups opposing the legislation – said the bill would eliminate Indiana’s flexibility to address public and environmental health concerns “in a way that’s appropriate for Indiana.”

She said it’s unclear whether the measure would apply only to federal regulations and standards or would extend to federal guidance on environmental rules. Spalding predicted it could lead to legal battles over state environmental policy.

Dan Carden, reporting for the NWI Times, writes:
Sixteen Hoosier environmental and social justice organizations called Wednesday for state Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, to kill a proposal that could significantly reshape Indiana's environmental laws.

Charbonneau, chairman of the Senate's Environmental Affairs Committee, is set Monday to hear House Bill 1143, mandating that Indiana environmental requirements "may not be more stringent than" federal law.

Rosemary Spalding, chairwoman of Earth Charter-Indiana and former lead counsel to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, said if the House-approved measure becomes law, Hoosier businesses and residents face significant risks.

"Despite its simple and straightforward language and intent, if this bill is enacted it will result in uncertainty, disagreement and yes, litigation," Spalding said. "The procedures we have in place right now make certain that (state environmental law) is what's in the best interest of Indiana citizens."

Dennis Shock, a United Methodist minister formerly of Crown Point and board member of Hoosier Interfaith Power and Light, said people of faith have a special obligation "to take the lead in caring for the earth, and not just doing the bare minimum."

Charbonneau was coy but seemed unlikely to permit a committee vote on the proposal, which has advanced out of the Republican-controlled House numerous times but repeatedly died in the Republican-controlled Senate under his predecessor as chairman, former state Sen. Beverly Gard, R-Greenfield.

"I haven't made the ultimate decision yet on that. It would be a stretch, I think, to leap to that step in a short session on a bill of this magnitude," Charbonneau said. "It is not a small change to our policies in this state. I just want to get a debate going, to get a discussion going."

ILB: For background, start with this Feb. 10 ILB post.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on February 20, 2014 08:51 AM
Posted to Environment