Answers to questions HEC received during Maximize Your Impact. Be an Indiana Change-Maker.
Getting Started with Advocacy
What is the most important part about being a change-maker? Sometimes being a change-maker can be overwhelming. Do you have any tips for getting started and keeping motivation up?
An important piece is to get started. Join with others, build relationships and community – that can be the energy that keeps you going in the face of issues that may take years to move the needle on. Take advantage of resources that can make your job easier. Be sure to celebrate small victories, even if you haven’t reached your ultimate goal. Progress is movement, even if small!
I agree entirely with my legislator. Should I still contact them?
Yes, you should! Contacting your legislator will help them know the issue is important. If you don’t reach them, then there’s a chance they are only hearing from people who disagree with you. They can also use your story. Having stories, like yours, can help them during debates on bills (“I’ve heard from X number of constituents who feel this way.”). Be sure to judge your own time constraints!
What committees are involved in environmental legislation? When do they meet? How can I find contact information for committee members?
Legislative Committees meet at the Statehouse in Indianapolis during the legislative session, which runs from January through March or April. At the beginning of the session, HEC staff review the bills as they are introduced to find the ones that have environmental implications. We follow those bills into whichever committee they get assigned to. Generally speaking, HEC staff members attend the meetings of the House and Senate Environmental Affairs Committees, Natural Resource Committees, and Utilities Committees. Between legislative sessions, there are interim committees or task forces which meet just a few times, but can go into greater depth on individual topics.
You can track legislative committee activity using the Indiana General Assembly website. The legislators who are members of each committee are listed on the webpage for that committee, and you can find their contact information by clicking on their picture.
Being an Effective Advocate
How do we best advocate with legislators that are outside of our own district?
Your greatest impact will be with the legislators who represent you. Legislators who serve as committee chairs or in leadership positions, however, serve the state more broadly, so they expect to hear from people outside their districts. Instead of opening your comments with “I live in your district and I am reaching out to you about … “, try “I am reaching out to you as the Chair of X Committee about …” or “I am reaching out to you as a leader of the Indiana House (or Senate) about…”. Including this language can help the legislator know the context of your comments.
If a legislator gets 20 emails on an issue with the exact same wording on all of them, would they have the same impact as 20 individually-worded emails?
Individually worded emails are more impactful! At HEC, we try to create variation even when we assist constituents in reaching out to their legislators.
How do you make the most of quick, 15-minute meetings with legislators? The time goes fast!
Be warm and make a good impression! Come prepared to your meeting and make sure you get your points across without too much extraneous discussion. Keep talking! A 15-minute meeting can easily turn into a 20-minute meeting. Also be sure to make it personal – how does the issue affect you personally?
Troubleshooting Advocacy Challenges
I’ve contacted my legislator using multiple methods and have never heard anything back.
Call their Legislative Assistant and talk to them in real time. Let them know about your efforts to make contact. If a one-on-one meeting is difficult to fit in their calendar, you could try attending one of your legislator’s town hall meetings or try getting a group of your legislator’s constituents together to request a group meeting. Make sure to avoid any messages that could come off as combative or insulting – this could hurt your chances of getting a meeting. Instead, focus on your intended subject matter. Lastly, you can also take to social media to get their attention.
I live in a jerrymandered district where my legislator won by 70% (or ran unopposed), so I’m worried my legislator won’t listen to me.
Whether the district is jerrymandered or not, legislators are responsible for representing their constituents. Generally, they take this responsibility seriously. Can you make a personal connection so you can be a trusted source of information and insight into constituent views?
What are some tips for being an advocate when travel is prohibitive?
You don’t have to travel to the Statehouse to be an effective advocate! Zoom meetings and phone calls are commonly used. While there may be times of year where your state legislators are in Indianapolis, you can also find them and meet with them in their districts. You can meet with your elected officials in your community and at community events.
How can we approach our legislator when they have potential conflicts of interest?
Ask them about it! “How does your involvement in X affect your involvement on this issue?” Is the conflict known? If it is a serious issue, it can be shared with the media who may then investigate more thoroughly.
Advocating for Community Solar and Climate Action
How can I help with getting more renewable energy in Indiana?
Many counties have renewable energy ordinances, which can sometimes limit local solar and wind. Be a voice at county meetings – be sure to notify HEC with meeting dates and reach out if you need any assistance with public testimony. Join us as a community solar advocate volunteer by emailing Delaney Barber.
What are some best practices, like community advocacy programs, that work to gain community solar?
Community building. Think about the interest parties – are they engaged? Who are the voices our legislators will resonate with?
How can we move Indiana legislators toward drafting a comprehensive net-zero, 100% clean energy plan to position our state to become more competitive in the Midwest?
That’s an ambitious and worthy goal. That being said, we have more ways of pushing for clean energy and climate action. Last legislative session, there was bipartisan support for a climate task force. While it ultimately did not make it out of committee, it was a sign of progress. We need strong support for clean energy from many groups at the state level, including businesses, agriculture professionals, and developers. The key to Indiana’s economic growth is our ability to transition to clean, renewable energy!
What climate legislation can we expect next session?
HEC is working with our partners around the state about approaches for the 2024 legislative session. It is significant that Indiana has accepted $3 million to create a climate action plan. This includes a greenhouse gas inventory and programs to reduce climate pollution, which then can be funded by more federal dollars. We are moving forward!
Advocating for Wetlands Protection and Restoration
What are the next steps after the US Supreme Court’s ruling on wetlands?
In May 2023, the US Supreme Court issued a decision – the Sackett decision – on which wetlands are protected under federal law and it significantly reduced the number that are protected. Prior to this ruling, 80% of Indiana’s remaining wetlands had federal protection. After the ruling, 20% or fewer have federal protection. The Supreme Court essentially said that the fate of wetlands is up to the states.
In September 2022, the Indiana Wetlands Task Force issued a report stating that Indiana is already suffering from the cumulative loss of wetlands. About 90% of Indiana’s original wetlands have already been destroyed. Since wetlands are good at storing excess stormwater, replenishing groundwater, purifying water, and hosting wildlife, losing them means more flooding, reduced groundwater resources, reduced water quality, and loss of wildlife. We need to make sure that all our elected officials understand that Indiana needs better wetland preservation and more wetland restoration.
What legislation is being planned to protect wetlands from failing septic systems?
For the last several years, a bill has been introduced to increase septic inspections. It has not passed in prior years, but may be reintroduced again in 2024.
In what ways does the government plan on helping keep our waters clean and potable at both the state and local levels?
At the state level, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) has the delegated authority to implement the federal Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act in our state. For drinking water, IDEM oversees safety in the state’s public drinking water systems. Under the Clean Water Act, IDEM tests water in streams, lakes, and rivers around the state. This also means that IDEM is responsible for issuing permits to limit waste discharges into waterways and for tracking compliance with those permits.
At the local level, the public drinking water systems are responsible for setting up source water protection plans, testing the water regularly, and following safety procedures. Local governments also have the option of building protective buffers around waterways and wetlands into their planning and zoning.