(This piece was originally published on March 24, 2016 in the IndyStar.)
Gov. Mike Pence has vetoed a measure that would have prevented state environmental standards from being stricter than federal requirements.
“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,” Pence said in a statement.
Advocates of House Enrolled Act 1082, commonly known as the “no more stringent than” bill, argued that it was needed to protect businesses from overly aggressive environmental regulators. But opponents said the measure would handcuff the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and prevent the state from reacting to environmental and public safety threats. They often cited the water contamination crisis in Flint, Mich., as an example of such dangers.
The measure would have prevented IDEM from setting any standards more stringent than federal rules until the end of the next legislative session. That would give lawmakers an opportunity to review any new, stricter rule.
But Pence, a Republican who has decried new greenhouse gas rules under the Obama administration, agreed with critics that the measure went too far.
“IDEM must have the necessary flexibility to take action to protect Hoosiers. House Enrolled Act 1082 restricts IDEM’s ability to act and imposes unnecessary delay in its rulemaking process,” he said. “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.”
Environmental groups praised the move, but worried the Republican-controlled legislature could override Pence’s veto. That’s uncommon but not difficult in Indiana, where the General Assembly can override a veto with a simple majority.
“We’ll continue to strive to build support for solutions that move our economy and environment forward which contrast with new laws like HB 1053 and SB 109 which are backward steps for Indiana,” he said.
Those who lobbied heavily for the measure called it a reasonable compromise and accused the governor of changing his position.
“HB 1082 would have provided a common-sense approach to environmental rulemaking for the State of Indiana,” said Brian Burton, president of the Indiana Manufacturers Association. “Even though the Governor indicated early support for this legislation, he reversed his position and his staff actively lobbied against the bill.”
Burton said consistent environmental policies are good for the economy and denied that the proposal would have limited IDEM’s ability to react to emergencies like the one in Flint.
“We will meet with legislative leaders to examine possible future action on this issue,” he said.
The veto was Pence’s first this year. Hours later, he vetoed a second bill that would have limited public access to police records at private colleges and universities. Those bills were among dozens Pence was expected to act on Thursday before a midnight deadline.