(This piece was originally published on January 4, 2017 by WBAA.)

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Environmentalists around the state are gearing up for the 2017 legislative session, and some will make the case that greater environmental protection is crucial for economic development.

Jesse Kharbanda, executive director of the Hoosier Environmental Council, says one priority is to get increased funding for the Indiana Department of Environmental Management. Since 2007, state funding for IDEM has been cut by 25 percent. Kharbanda says that means less money for the agency to enforce regulations, monitor pollution or hire personnel.

“All these things are interlinked with this broader point of facilitating economic development, you can’t draw in economic development if a community is stigmatized as being contaminated,” says Kharbanda.

HEC wants to see policies incentivizing clean energy development and more funding for mass transportation and cleanup for abandoned industrial lots.

HEC will also advocate with the Indiana Forest Alliance to safeguard parts of state forests from logging, although a similar measure failed in the legislature last year.

Kharbanda says legislators should do everything possible to strengthen the state’s natural amenities, like its forests, prairies and wetlands.

“You know, there’s the risk of losing millennials to a Denver because of the mountains or to the Bay Area because of the ocean,” Kharbanda says.

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