(This piece was originally published on March 1, 2017 in NUVO.)

State level

This legislative session, there are three bills proposed in the House and Senate that deal with the environment.

Senate Bill 309 would end net metering for Indiana homes and businesses. Net metering is when a building uses renewable energy and “sells” any extra energy that is generated to the power company. Then, when the building does not generate as much energy as it uses, the credit it has built up is used. The Senate Utilities Committee voted 8-2 on Feb. 16 in favor of Senate Bill 309, with three amendments. Many Indiana homeowners, schools and businesses, especially those that use renewable energy, are not in favor of this bill because it could remove incentives for investing in renewable energy. The bill passed out of the Senate on a 39-9 bipartisan vote.

In a statement, Jesse Kharbanda, the executive director of the Hoosier Environmental Council, said, “In a state that celebrates freedom, liberty, and customer choice, this bill does a great deal to discourage commitment to those principles: SB 309, in its current form, poses six significant obstacles to businesses, schools, churches, and homes installing rooftop solar — obstacles that remain even after the two amendments to the bill.” The House, he continued, would be wise to put a stop to the bill.

Senate Bill 420 would reserve 10 percent of the state’s old growth forests and prevent them from being logged. The goal of this bill is to ensure that Indiana maintains some of its natural habitat. Senate Bill 420 was discussed on Feb. 13, but did not get a vote in committee. The Indiana Forest Alliance is working on a summer study committee to keep the logging issue at the front of the legislative agenda, Anne Laker, the director of communications and admin at the Indiana Forest Alliance, said in an email.

In fall 2016, a new construction project to build a veteran’s cemetery in what is currently one of the state’s only remaining old-growth forests was met with resistance. The Indiana Forest Alliance, among other concerned groups, sued to halt the construction, but was denied. Then, the Laura Hare Charitable Trust offered to buy the land from the Dept. of Veterans Affairs (DVA) to turn it into a nature preserve and allow the DVA to find another place for the cemetery.

Construction has not begun on the cemetery yet, Laker said. Politicians, she continued, listened to the outcry from the community and have been working behind the scenes with people at the VA National Cemetery Administration about the trust’s offer.

House Bill 1494 seeks to further decrease regulations for commercial feeding operations looking to construct new sites or expand existing ones. Many are against this bill because the existing rules are already weak and the bill further weakens them. The bill passed through the House Committee on Environmental Affairs 7-3 on Feb. 15, with one amendment to require new permits under certain circumstances that was adopted.

The bill passed 66-25 and is now headed for the Senate.

City level

Both the mass transit proposal and the climate recovery proposal passed through their respective committees and were heard and voted on in front of the full City-County Council on Feb. 27.

The climate recovery proposal aims to increase energy efficiency, reduce carbon emissions and make the city of Indianapolis climate change-resilient. The bill passed through the City-County Council with a 20-4 vote in favor and was met with applause by those in attendance.

After the vote, Councillor Zach Adamson, D-District 17, thanked the young people who worked on the bill.

“I just wanted to thank the young people behind us,” said Adamson. “And to let everybody know that as soon as the mayor signs this, Indianapolis will be the largest city in the nation to pass a YOUTH-led Climate Change proposal. I think that deserves some recognition for these young people.”

The mass transit proposal will add an income tax dedicated to helping fund mass transit in the city of Indianapolis. The funding would go toward providing shorter waits, extending hours and adding new vehicles and rapid transit lines.

Several councillors took the time to address the crowd and each other on the merits and concerns of the project. Councillor Joe Simpson, D-District 7 moved to delay a vote on the proposal until June. Simpson stated the council needed more time to see if the $75 million federal grant designated to fund the Red Line actually comes to fruition. The motion was defeated 16-9.

Councillor Jeff Miller, R-District 16, gave an impassioned speech about the need for mass transit in Indianapolis, summing up the consequences of what would happen if the proposal was defeated. “The cost of doing nothing is so far greater than the risk of doing something,” Miller said.

After further debate and discussion from both sides of the argument, the proposal passed 17-8 and was met with a standing ovation after the vote.

The plan now moves to Mayor Hogsett’s desk for final approval. Hogsett released the following statement via Twitter Monday night:

“Last year, a significant majority of Marion County voters made an important statement about the future of mass transit in Indianapolis and I appreciate the Council’s decision to act according to the will of the people tonight. Once this ordinance is signed, I look forward to ensuring that this historic investment in city infrastructure will be transformative for our future.”

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