On Thursday, April 29, 2021, Governor Eric Holcomb signed SEA 1191 into our law; below is our statement just after the signing of this bill into law, and here’s a post-session news story that synthesizes the stakes of this law.

Please make the time to either thank your lawmakers for voting against HEA 1191 – or express your disappointment that they voted for it.  Lawmakers need to appreciate that there is a vocal, large environmental community in their legislative districts.  You can see how Senators voted, and how Reps votedReach your lawmakers.

I.) Here were the four reasons why we opposed HEA 1191:

1.) It further weakens the authority of local governments

The Indiana legislature has systematically weakened local governments through enacting anti-local control laws related to gun safety, plastic pollution, and stormwater control, to name a few.  This trend of tying the hands of local government when it comes to health and safety can’t continue, and it goes against a key foundation of Indiana law — home rule.  Local governments should have the right to be more protective, when it comes to public health, of their citizens than the state or federal government.

2.) Passing this law would show that the legislature is beholden to large special interests

Similar bills have passed in other states at the behest of the fossil fuel lobby. Indiana, which portrays itself as being independent-minded, should not let this powerful lobby group be superior to the wishes of Hoosiers wanting to exercise self-government.

3.) It undermines public health

Local governments have good, science based reasons to prohibit certain types of energy resources in their boundaries, while being ever sensitive to the implications of their decisions on low-income residents and small businesses.  HEA 1191 would have the practical implication of prohibiting cities and counties from banning energy resources that it deems as unhealthy, such as:

a.) Waste-to-energy facilities, which depending on their design and feedstock, can emit heavy metals, dioxins and furans

b.) Natural gas operations, from extraction to end use

Note that cooking with natural gas can have serious health risks. Such stoves can emit carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, formaldehyde, and fine particulate matter.

Natural gas development, upstream from consumption, is often a dirty process

1. It leads to local hazardous air emissions

2. It leads to high levels of particulate emissions

3. It often entails natural gas leakage, which is a far more potent GHG gas than carbon dioxide

4.) It will discourage local-level climate action

HEA 1191 impairs future carbon-cutting efforts in three distinct ways: It strips city and county governments of their ability to 1.) ban utility-owned, high-carbon emitting electricity resources in their community, 2.) require zero-carbon building technologies in privately-owned buildings, and 3.) ban the sale of an array of high-carbon emitting retail products in their community.

Indiana cities are paying attention to climate change; they’ve adopted resolutions calling for action, they’ve partnered with the Environmental Resilience Institute to track their greenhouse gas emissions, and they’ve begun adopting ordinances to strengthen environmental resilience. Passing this anti-local bill, HB 1191, could discourage local governments from moving forward with future local climate action, on fear that the state government will cut off their authority. Please also note that natural gas consumption is the leading source of GHG emissions in the building sector.  Natural gas accounts for 80% of direct fossil fuel CO2 emissions from the residential and commercial sectors (US EPA, 2018).

HEA 1191 is getting media attention, with coverage in Indiana Public Media, Indiana Environmental Reporter, Midwest Energy News (see here, here, and here), NUVO, and Lakeshore Public Radio.

For media inquiries, please email: jkharbanda@hecweb.org.

II.) Our Statement on the Enactment of HEA 1191 into Law

“Indiana has historically had the highest carbon footprint (per capita) in the Industrial Midwest, and the Industrial Midwest has historically had the highest carbon footprint in the U.S.  It’s therefore very counter-productive for Indiana to have just enacted HEA 1191, which would significantly impair the ability of Indiana’s cities to seriously cut their community’s carbon footprint.  We wonder if the backers of this bill really want to have a legacy of being the ones who brought a law into being that effectively discourages local governments (and the young people who have led the charge in influencing localities) from pursuing community-wide policy approaches when it comes to responding to climate change,” remarked Jesse Kharbanda, Executive Director, Hoosier Environmental Council.  “This bill will also hamper the plans of any Indiana cities that might have aspired, for economic development, talent attraction & retention, and/or quality of life reasons, to be at the national forefront of being an all-around environmentally sustainable city.  HEC and our allies will pursue other strategies to accelerate the adoption of carbon-cutting technologies like electric vehicles, energy efficiency, energy storage, and rooftop solar.”

III.) Skeptical View

Skeptical question you might have…  But couldn’t a local government ban utility-scale solar or wind in their county?  And isn’t that a bad thing that this potential law (HEA 1191) could avoid?  Our answer is that the risks of HEA 1191 in hamstringing local government in dealing decisively with health risks of unhealthy energy resources exceed the costs of locals declining to choose utility-scale renewables for their communities. Please note that should our local members ask HEC to weigh in on a local proceeding pertaining to a city/county renewables ban, HEC would oppose such a ban; utility-scale renewables, if properly designed and sited, do not pose the magnitude of public health and wildlife risks that fossil fuel sources do.

Please note that according to state law (IC 36-7-2-8), Indiana already prohibits a city/county ban on certain types of on-site solar energy systems already.  “A [local government] unit may not adopt any ordinance which has the effect of prohibiting or of unreasonably restricting the use of solar energy systems** other than for the preservation or protection of the public health and safety.”

**A “solar energy system” is defined in statute as:

“(1) any solar collector or other solar energy device whose primary purpose is to provide for the collection, storage, and distribution of solar energy for space heating or cooling, or for water heating;  or

(2) any structural design feature of a building, whose primary purpose is to provide for the collection, storage, and distribution of energy for space heating or cooling, or for water heating.”