The State Legislature, for the most part, made sound decisions during the 2020 session on bills with significant environmental and public health ramifications. But legislators fell short of good public policy in at least two cases.
The General Assembly passed beneficial legislation to accomplish the following:
• Protect public access to Lake Michigan and her shores for activities such as swimming, fishing, boating and hiking;
• Create the state’s first-ever requirement for schools to test for lead in drinking water;
• Establish a ban on the use of the controversial chemical PFAS in training of firefighters.
Legislators also relegated to study committee a potentially harmful bill that would have limited revenue for local professionals who are working to reduce stormwater pollution, a pervasive threat to Indiana’s lakes and rivers.
But the General Assembly created a few problems for environmental health.
House Bill 1414 establishes a regulatory hurdle for the state’s transition from coal to clean energy by placing more hoops for utilities to jump through before closing coal-fired power plants. Thanks to the efforts of the bill’s many opponents — including organizations representing utilities and others representing environmental efforts — the bill was modified to limit its impact.
Senate Enrolled Act 229, which awaits the governor’s signature, is perhaps more problematic. It enables dredging and reconstruction of state-regulated drainage ditches without a permit from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management. This poses a threat to the state’s wetlands, which not only provide habitat for birds, frogs and other species, but also filter out pollutants.
Indiana gets 6.5 inches more precipitation yearly than when amounts were first recorded in the late 19th century, meaning that wetlands are more crucial than ever for a healthy ecosystem, according to Purdue University scientists.
SEA 229 strikes at the heart of the Isolated Wetlands Law of 2003, which established regulations to preserve Indiana’s wetlands.
We join the Indiana Lakes Management Society, the Hoosier Environmental Council, the Indiana Wildlife Association, the Sierra Club of Indiana and environmentally-minded Hoosiers across the state in calling for Gov. Eric Holcomb to veto this damaging bill.