(This piece was originally published on March 24, 2016 in The Indiana Lawyer.)
A bill that originally would have barred the Department of Environmental Management from passing “no more stringent” regulations than federal rules was vetoed Thursday by Gov. Mike Pence, despite a compromise on the bill agreed to by both industry and environmental groups.
“In recent months, public concern over clean and safe drinking water has grown as a result of the situation in Flint, Michigan,” Pence said in a statement announcing his veto of House Enrolled Act 1082.
“Our Indiana Department of Environmental Management is vigilant about requiring regular testing of water systems across the state for lead and working with any systems that are out of compliance to implement plans that will return the water to safe levels. IDEM must have the necessary flexibility to take action to protect Hoosiers,” he said.
“House Enrolled Act 1082 restricts IDEM’s ability to act and imposes unnecessary delay in its rulemaking process. At a time when we must do all that we can to enhance public trust in the agencies charged with protecting our environment, this bill moves in the wrong direction and will therefore receive my veto. With this veto, Hoosiers can be assured that we will continue to have the necessary discretion and flexibility to create Indiana solutions at the state level and act in a timely way to protect our drinking water.”
Under the compromise on HEA 1082, IDEM could propose regulations more stringent than the federal government, but would have been required to report them to the General Assembly. The regulations would not have taken effect until the conclusion of the following legislative session.
Jesse Kharbanda, executive director of the Hoosier Environmental Council, said the HEC agreed to the compromise bill but was pleased with Pence’s veto. “We think it’s a very encouraging decision for which the governor should be thanked, but there are a few important caveats,” he said.
The veto “may open the door to yet another year of debate, and I think that would be detrimental,” Kharbanda said. “While this was a wise move by the governor, we don’t want the public to overlook the fact there were other bills signed into law that really reflected Indiana moving in a backward direction” on environmental issues. He said those include SEA 109 that permits canned hunting and HEA 1053, which prohibits localities from taking steps to “solve their big and chronic plastic bag problems.”
The compromise lawmakers sent to Pence in HEA 1082 was crafted by Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, who said he was surprised by Pence’s veto, but understood, particularly in light of the lead water contamination disaster in Flint. “I can understand the concerns of the governor of the state wanting to make sure he or she has the authority to react in certain conditions,” he said.