What is this, the 20th century?
Fifty-two members of the Indiana House seem to think so.
Those 50 Republicans and two Democrats voted Monday to approve House Bill 1414, which seeks to preserve a 20th century energy staple, coal, as a primary fuel for power plants in Indiana. The bill, which was opposed by 41 legislators, will now be considered by the Senate.
HB 1414 would empower the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission to delay public utilities in their efforts to shut down coal-fired power plants. Specifically, the bill would require those utilities to notify the IURC of the intention to retire a plant. The IURC then could take four months to conduct a public hearing and issue an opinion on the "reasonableness" of the proposed closing.
The law would expire May 1, 2021, but could be extended by legislators.
Ostensibly, the measure is designed to preserve coal industry jobs and to give the 21st Century Energy Policy Task Force, co-chaired by Republican state Rep. Ed Soliday of Valparaiso, ample time to study the state's energy concerns and map a plan for the future.
House Bill 1414 is opposed by an unusual grouping of interests that includes electric utilities, conservative political action organizations, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, the Hoosier Environmental Council and the Citizens Action Coalition.
They say the legislation would hinder the advancement of clean energy fuels such as wind power while potentially raising the cost of electricity for the consumer. The coal power plants left open would continue to harm the environment and threaten human health.
Electric utilities are turning their backs on coal not just because of federal mandates and environmental concerns, but because it makes economic sense. Other fuel sources have become more efficient and less costly.
Many of the state's coal-fired plants are slated for retirement by 2028 or earlier. Some are in need of expensive repairs, the cost of which would be passed along to consumers.
While the loss of the state's fewer than 3,000 coal industry jobs shouldn't be taken lightly, state leaders should recognize that new jobs will result from the expansion of alternative energy sources.
The coal industry has lobbied hard in Indiana, which as of May 2019 was second in the country in coal consumption and eighth in coal production. Last year, an Oklahoma company, Sunrise and Alliance Coal, and the Indiana Coal Political Action Committee donated a combined total of $8,500 to Soliday, House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate Majority leader Jim Merritt.
And since 2016, those same entities have given Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb an estimated $265,000, The Indianapolis Star reported.
It would appear that the coal industry has gotten the attention of Indiana's leaders. Either that or 52 members of the Indiana House still haven't noticed the 20th century ended two decades ago.
The state Senate should reject HB 1414.