The Hoosier Environmental Council has outlined its goals for the upcoming legislative session. The group will talk about some of those at their annual Greening the Statehouse event Saturday, Nov. 16.
1. Raise awareness of public policy solutions to increase access to solar energy and make it more affordable
Two years ago, Indiana passed a law that changed net metering — it slowly decreased the amount solar customers get for excess energy they deliver to the grid. During the 2019 legislative session, some lawmakers aimed to overturn that law, but the bill to do so didn’t get a hearing.
Kharbanda says he’s encouraged that many of the Republican lawmakers that opposed the law in 2017 are still around and continue to get feedback about net metering from their constituents.
“I think because of the economic arguments around solar, we anticipated coming back again,” he says.
But Kharbanda says the HEC will focus more on the policies that haven’t been adopted in Indiana and haven’t had much discussion at the Statehouse yet — like third party financing, PACE financing, and third party community solar.
2. Support mass transit legislation
Kharbanda says there are several reasons why mass transit — like buses, trains, and subways — is becoming a hot topic in Indiana. He says the U.S. population is getting older and many seniors may stop driving.
“Furthermore, you have the reality that this generation of drivers and new drivers are getting their licenses later or forgoing licenses altogether,” Kharbanda says. “So that's another signal that people want transportation alternatives.”
Kharbanda says there’s also evidence that people are starting to choose where they live before where they work — and access to mass transit is a big factor.
3. Back bills that will address stormwater pollution
The state created a stormwater task force, which met this past legislative session. Kharbanda says some of the recommendations from that task force were for the state to create one central agency to oversee stormwater management and to encourage stormwater utilities to collaborate with each other.
Kharbanda says he’s not sure what state legislation will arise surrounding stormwater in 2020.
“But we want to be very engaged in any legislation that would either increase funding for stormwater control or that would help to strengthen existing protections from stormwater pollution,” he says.
4. Block bills that would weaken local government’s ability to address local environmental issues
In the past few years, Kharbanda says there’s been a trend of state government trying to undermine local control. He points to then Gov. Mike Pence’s ban on restricting the use of plastic bags in 2016, for example, or the new Indiana law that prohibits local governments from making stricter erosion control rules on construction sites than state ones.
“There's this real paradox, which is that the federal government is really not acting in any proactive way to strengthen environmental protections. The state government is really starved of money. Local government, in theory, are real innovators — and yet, virtually every session, the legislature is wanting to undermine the ability of local governments to innovate," Kharbanda says.
Kharbanda says the HEC wants to support cities’ and counties’ ability to protect local control.
5. Raise awareness of programs to reduce agricultural runoff
Kharbanda says the HEC wants to encourage the state to allocate more money to programs that help reduce agricultural runoff — which is responsible for some of the dangerous algal blooms around the country lately, like in Lake Eerie.
Specifically, he says the state should put more money towards two programs. Clean Water Indiana provides funding to landowners and conservation groups who help farmers to adopt conservation practices — like planting cover crops and practicing no-till agriculture.
Kharbanda says the President Benjamin Harrison Conservation Trust Fund helps protect woodlands, wetlands, and prairies — which are becoming more rare in the state.
“If this money is earmarked such that it is used to protect open spaces along water bodies, then they act as a buffer that will reduce the amount of runoff of pesticides, fertilizer, and soil getting into our waters,” he says.
Indiana Environmental reporting is supported by the Environmental Resilience Institute, an Indiana University Grand Challenge project developing Indiana-specific projections and informed responses to problems of environmental change.