(This piece was originally published on February 28, 2016 in The Indianapolis Star.)

“When 20 statewide and regional organizations, representing tens of thousands of Hoosiers of diverse professional, political and faith backgrounds, are united in their opposition to a piece of Indiana legislation, Indiana parents, teachers, health professionals, mayors and, indeed, all Hoosiers should take notice. The bill language in question, called “No More Stringent Than” (which has appeared in the House-passed House Bill 1082and may be appear in other bills), would make it illegal for Indiana’s taxpayer-funded, professionally trained environmental experts to use their long-standing authority to enact any environmental safeguards that are more protective than the minimal standards required by the federal government, even when those minimal federal standards are inadequate to protect you and your families from toxins in our air and water.

It’s precisely the wrong time to be passing such legislation in Indiana. Our country has had several drinking water crises in the last few years, the most notable occurred in major cities including Flint, Mich.; Charleston, W.Va.; and Toledo, Ohio. The causes of these tragedies are diverse, but they all point to the reality that 21st century America cannot take toxic-free drinking water for granted. Unfortunately, the “No More Stringent” bill would hamper Indiana’s effort to prevent drinking water crises in our cities and towns by taking away the long-standing authority of water chemists, geologists, hydrologists and civil engineers to address the shortcomings in federal drinking water standards without having to seek approval from the Indiana legislature — a place where lawmakers are subject to considerable political pressure, lack technical expertise, and are in session for only a few months a year.

You might ask this question: Could the federal government really write drinking water standards that could leave our children vulnerable to drinking water contamination?

We’re afraid the answer is yes. Under long-standing federal drinking water protections, a drinking water system that identifies neurotoxic lead in its water can continue to deliver lead-tainted water to homes while they try various strategies to address the challenge. This troubleshooting requires, under federal law, that operators of drinking water systems try a series of fixes and retesting and allows that process to take more than three years. During this period of testing and retesting, the lead-tainted water can still be delivered to homes, schools, businesses and places of worship.

In the final days of the legislative session, we know that there are legislators who understand the major risks that “No More Stringent Than” poses, which has led to a very different discussion in the Indiana Senate than the Indiana House about this legislative language. But the reality is that “No More Stringent Than” language could be in play until the very end of the legislative session. We therefore urge you to contact your state representative and state senator to oppose “No More Stringent Than” language. We owe it to our kids, the elderly and others vulnerable to toxins to make sure that Indiana continues to empower its environmental experts to do their jobs and protect the health of all Hoosiers.”

Jesse Kharbanda, Executive Director, Hoosier Environmental Council

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