Indiana could lose the authority to control its air pollution if the state doesn’t increase fees for companies that pollute. Senate Bill 155 aims to keep that authority in the hands of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.
The good news is, air pollution in Indiana — and around the country — has gone down in the past few decades. The bad news is, the fees that companies pay to pollute are what keeps the state’s air permitting program running. With less pollution, it’s struggling to stay afloat.
“The federal government could take over our permit program if we don’t address this sooner rather than later," said IDEM’s legislative director Drake Abramson.
The Environmental Protection Agency sent a letter to IDEM warning the agency that their revenue was too low to support the air program. It said if IDEM doesn't increase its fees, the program could face a multi-million dollar deficit by fiscal year 2024.
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Overall, business groups and utilities say they support increasing permit fees. Greg Ellis is the vice president of energy and environmental policy with the Indiana Chamber of Commerce.
“We don’t want to have to go to the federal government for this. One, we don’t know what the costs will be if the EPA were to take the program over and we also don’t know how long it would take," he said.
Abramson said Indiana is one of the fastest states when it comes to issuing air permits — which attracts new businesses.
Indiana did raise its air permit fees by 27 percent in 2019. The first time it was able to do so in more than a decade. At the time, the agency was forced to leave more than 100 positions vacant to make ends meet.
Right now, the state is only allowed to raise its air permit fees once every five years and by no more than 10 percent. The Indiana Manufacturers Association said it would like to see similar guardrails in this latest bill. Until that changes, the group remains opposed to the bill.
If fees don't increase enough, the EPA could takeover the air permitting program, up enforcement at Indiana businesses that have air permits, or make the state implement a performance plan with EPA's oversight.
Rebecca is our energy and environment reporter. Contact her at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter at @beckythiele.