Press Release: March 11, 2024

The Hoosier Environmental Council (HEC) offers progress, challenges, and future focus at the end of the 2024 Legislative Session.  Both new and familiar themes emerged, affecting Hoosier health, quality of life and our natural environment.  HEC identifies three key areas of focus:

Indiana’s Water Resources Require a Comprehensive Plan

 “This session exemplifies the need for Indiana to be thoughtful and strategic about one of our most precious resources – – water,” said Sam Carpenter, Executive Director of Hoosier Environmental Council.  “Governor Holcomb has ordered the Indiana Finance Authority to perform a comprehensive study of our water resources, which represents an important opportunity to begin planning for our future water needs.”

Wetlands protections received a great deal of attention this session and there were both helpful and harmful bills.  HB1383 continued the diminishment of protections for these special water resources by down- grading certain types of wetlands and thus limiting the state’s authority to control the loss.  HEC is certain this legislation will lead to further loss of the most effective, least costly stormwater retention and water cleansing tools we have.  The good news is that HEC and our allies were able to push for passage of SB246, which will allow owners of wetland habitats to receive a tax benefit by voluntarily preserving this land.

Regulating massive groundwater withdrawals was the subject of two introduced bills (SB249 and HB1305) that did not receive committee hearings. These bills, and the industrial water needs that sparked them, challenged the assumptions that Indiana has water resources that are protected in quantity and quality and exist where needed now and into the future.

Other legislative measures affecting water quality and human health also passed into lawor were defeated. SB5 facilitates replacement of lead service lines in residential dwellings, especially rental units and other buildings where children, the most vulnerable to lead poisoning, live, learn and play. HEC and its allies defeated a bill (HB1399) that would have defined a class of toxic chemicals, collectively known as PFAS or “forever chemicals,” in a narrow way that would have prevented effective future regulation to protect human health. And a bill that will require the Department of Agriculture to update the Drainage Handbook (SB140) should lead to better water management from agricultural fields and residential development projects. By contrast, HEC opposed (HB1108) that limits county and city regulation of building on steep slopes. The effect of this bill is certain to lead to increased erosion and pollution of state waters.

Indiana Must Build a Strategic Plan for Renewable Energy and Climate

 “Demand for energy is growing and for Indiana to remain competitive, we must significantly grow our supply of affordable, clean, renewable energy.  Advanced manufacturing, data centers and EV’s are just some of the forces building demand.  Until we enact policies that enable both small scale solar on the local level and large utility scale renewable projects, Hoosiers will fall behind in the investments needed to grow our economy,” said Sam Carpenter.  Despite this truth, the General Assembly did not advance bills that would help secure our energy future.  Four positive bills did not receive committee hearings: HB1193 (to encourage Community Solar); SB177 (to promote combined farming and solar generation in a form called Agrivoltaics); SB259 (to facilitate local wastewater and clean energy districts); and HB1172 (to create a study committee on climate resilience and economic growth).  HEC was pleased to see that HB1382, a bill that would slow the closing of coal plants, did not advance as well.

The General Assembly Must Refrain from Legislative Overreach

This session provided dozens of examples where legislators introduce bills as if they were city or county council members or agency regulators. Perhaps the starkest example was SB52, which failed, that aimed to eliminate the Blue Lines bus rapid transit project in Indianapolis.  This bill sought to nullify the votes of a strong majority of Marion County voters who eight years ago chose to tax themselves to build a bus rapid transit system. The city and legislators reached a compromise regarding the length and placement of dedicated bus lanes, but some in the General Assembly had no qualms about interfering with city business and foregoing hundreds of millions of dollars in federal and private investments secured to support the project.

In addition, HB1165, which did not become law, but would have created a separate set of rules for new and ‘innovative’ businesses to apply for and receive environmental permits; and SB297, which also created an additional layer of non-agency budgetary review for regulations that might have compliance or implementation costs exceeding $1 million. The language in SB297 was never considered in the House but a version was inserted into another bill on the last day of the session and without review by a conference committee, thus effectively giving a legislative budget committee veto power over executive agency rules.

Hoosier Environmental Council Rallied and Won:

HEC, together with supporters and allied organizations from across Indiana, advanced its mission and values through the following legislative victories:

  • SB246 passed, and it is a bill that promotes preservation of wetlands. In our fight against HB1383 we significantly raised awareness of water issues throughout the state.
  • SB5 passed and that will save untold numbers of children from lead poisoning.
  • SB52 was defeated, thus preserving the continuity and effectiveness of public mass transit in Indianapolis and throughout the state.
  • HB1399 was defeated, an ill-conceived bill designed to weaken future regulations of “forever chemicals.”
  • HB1382 was defeated, which would have placed obstacles on the closure of fossil fuel generators throughout the state.
  • Finally, we strengthened our community of citizen supporters which resulted in over 4,500 individual actions in the form of emails, phone calls, and petitions to advance the vision of a sustainable future for Indiana.

The Vision of HEC is to set a new path for Indiana, one in which the state embraces practices and policies that minimize the impact of industry, commerce, development and agriculture on the environment. The Hoosier Environmental Council believes this path will lead to greater levels of public health, economic well-being, and a sustainable future for generations to come.

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