On Jan. 23, The Nature Conservancy will sponsor Conservation Day at the Statehouse. The event focuses on giving community members a chance to interact with their legislators and voice their opinions and concerns on environmental issues. Dress code is business casual.
A presentation on the Indiana Conversation Alliance's 2013 legislative priorities and salient talking points is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. in the Indiana Government Center Auditorium. (Registration begins at 12:30 p.m. in the Indiana Government Center South Atrium.)
From 2:30 p.m. – 5 p.m., advocates and lawmakers will gather in the Statehouse North Atrium for refreshments and discussion on environmental issues.
"This year is very important, because Indiana has a new governor and many new members of the legislature who need to hear about the importance of conservation of our natural environment," said organizer Angela Hughes in a news release. "Additionally, this is a budget-making session of the General Assembly, and of course we want to make sure that conservation programs are funded appropriately."
In addition to advocating for funding of the Indiana Heritage Trust, Bicentennial Nature Trust, and Clean Water Indiana programs, Hughes identified legislation to improve Central Indiana's public transit options and work toward water quality improvements through greater consumer education about issues with phosphorous in lawn fertilizers.
Lawmakers and advocates alike encourage citizens to introduce themselves to their elected representatives and communicate about the issues that they believe are important for the legislature to address and why.
At a 2011 Greening the Statehouse Forum, Ron Gifford, Central Indiana Corporate Partnership's executive vice president of public policy and a member of the Central Indiana Transit Task Force, reminded attendees that Hoosiers tend to embrace "radical incrementalism."
Before resorting to terms such as "corporate tool" or even "rat's ass Republicans" (as beloved NUVO Editor Emeritus Harrison J. Ullmann was wont to do), long-time lobbyists and Statehouse watchers suggest that when progressive agendas meet conservative ones, finding areas of common ground, such as the importance of conservation, may help identify the channels through which environmental progress can develop.
Climate, coal ash and clean energy, or "the three Cs," as the Hoosier Environmental Council's Jesse Kharbanda calls them, will be at the heart of his environmental advocacy group's air and energy priorities in 2013.
At a December meeting outlining current environmental challenges, Kharbanda encouraged his fellow advocates to acknowledge "great improvements in (Indiana's) air quality," as they pertain to EPA attainment standards, but also noted "a troubling lack of moral urgency at the state level; Indiana does not have a climate action plan."
area of concern: Indiana may be the 15th most-populated state and 38th
in terms of geographical area, but it is No. 1 in the nation for the number of
coal ash sludge lagoons.
While the state "has a great deal of self regulation by utilities, virtually every Indiana-regulated utility has had some kind of red flag raised by the EPA related to coal ash water pollution," Kharbanda said.
He advised the audience to keep an eye on Congress, where movements "to derail future federal safeguards to protect drinking water from coal ash" are underway. Finally, state lawmakers can expect to hear from HEC ideas on how the state can do more to foster clean energy, given the enormous untapped economic potential of wind, solar, and geothermal in Indiana.
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Now that the 2013, is underway, HEC has identified several specific legislative initiatives that have the potential to undermine environmental integrity. In a news release issued Friday, HEC outlined the following areas it considers to be of concern (listed here verbatim):
I. Policies that could weaken the ability of state government to respond to local pollution concerns
·Executive Order 13-03 may prevent new agency safeguards to the environment from being adopted (e.g. rules to tackle under-addressed pollution from coal ash sludge ponds and animal manure pits).
·A failure to amend 2012's SEA 311 in the 2013 session could mean that benefit-cost analyses done by state government do not take into account public health benefits of new regulations.
·A legislative proposal to create a "no-more-stringent-than-federal regulation" requirement might tie the hands of Indiana policymakers to find swift solutions to local environmental challenges.
·The Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) and Indiana Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) have proposed program budgets that maintain existing funding levels. HEC seeks to head off any cuts in environmental funding, which represent just 1 percent of the Indiana state budget.
II. Legislation that could strain clean, affordable energy
·SB 560 has the potential to reduce oversight for multi-million dollar expenses of electric transmission investments -- potentially raising electricity bills for businesses above what a more stringent review of electricity costs would do. Such a bill could also reduce investment in energy efficiency.
III. Legislation that would threaten the rights of Hoosiers to protect themselves from ag pollution
·HJR 5/SJR 21 essentially make unconstitutional all laws governing agriculture practices (including CAFO/CFO rules) meant to protect the environment, including water quality, public health, and property.
·SB 571 amends the Right to Farm Act by providing protection from lawsuits brought against CAFOs/CFOs and prevents local governments from regulating ag operations. Allowing the industry to codify these practices legitimizes the harm those practices cause & prevents the harmed from seeking court relief.
·SB 131, SB 178, SB 88. No other state in the nation has a loser pays system; it would have a chilling effect on the willingness of people with modest means, who have legitimate claims, from seeking court relief.
IV. Legislation that would threaten wildlife
·HB 1194 would legalize the hunting of captive-raised deer in fenced enclosures. HEC, in alliance with hunting and conservation groups, opposes the bill because captive deer herds increase disease risk.
V. Legislation that would worsen air quality in rural areas
·HB 1189 allows the expansion of open burning, by allowing wood demolition debris in urban areas to be transported to rural, unincorporated areas for burning. This could result in an on-going burning operation at a single rural site, increasing health risks for nearby residents from air pollution from the burning.
Ginnye Cubel contributed to this report.