This year’s legislative session went by quickly. If you haven’t been paying attention to energy and environment issues that came up, here’s what you need to know.
Most of the bills that passed out of the legislature are still waiting for the governor’s signature.
The original version of this bill aimed to keep coal plants open until Indiana could come up with a statewide energy plan at the end of this year. But several parts of the bill were taken out and now it only requires utilities to note planned coal plant closures in their long-term energy plans — something most utilities already do. This part of the bill will expire in May 2021. There was also language put in to give coal miners — and other people who work in coal-related industries in the state — priority for workforce training grants.
This was a surprise, last-minute addition to a yearly Indiana Department of Natural Resources bill. It aligns with a 2018 Indiana Supreme Court decision that says the public has a right to use Lake Michigan beaches in front of private lakefront property. It also defines what kinds of activities are allowed there — like walking and swimming. Several bills about Lake Michigan beach access were proposed this session — those similar to this one and those that would have given lakefront property owners more exclusive rights to the beach.
This requires all schools that haven’t tested for lead at least once since 2016 to do so within the next two years. If the results are higher than the federal action level (15 parts per billion), schools would have to take action — such as replacing lead water fixtures. But some question whether this measure would actually protect kids. Since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration only allows 5 parts per billion of lead in bottled water, a Purdue professor says waiting to act until there’s 15 ppb of lead is a bad idea. Sen. Lonnie Randolph (D-East Chicago) also added an amendment to the bill that would require Lake County school buildings to be tested every two years — more often than other Indiana schools.
The bill aims to help local governments cut costs by allowing them to fix or reconstruct a drain in a state wetland without a permit from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management. Both IDEM and environmentalists have concerns that this could harm the state’s wetlands. Language was added in to address those concerns, but the Hoosier Environmental Council says it’s vague and likely won’t protect sensitive wetland areas.
This was one of two bills that originally aimed to raise the maximum fines for misusing pesticides — to help stop problems like dicamba drift. But there was a lot of disagreement about how high those fines should be and who it could affect, so lawmakers decided to change the bill and created a working group to study the issue instead.
This bill would have allowed homeowners to petition their homeowners associations for the right to put solar panels on their houses. Though there was a lot of support for this bill from environmental groups, it died in committee.
This bill would have required annual inspections for confined animal feeding operations — the large farms that are often thought to contaminate air and water nearby. It’s not often that you see a bill like this proposed by a Republican lawmaker, but it still failed.
This bill came up a few months after a chemical spill from northwest Indiana steelmaker ArcelorMittal killed about 3,000 fish in a Lake Michigan waterway. It would have required the party responsible to notify water utilities and water treatment plants when a spill or other release could cause a threat to their operations. Despite bi-partisan support, it died in a Senate committee.
This one was unique — it would have exempted hybrid and electric motorcycles from paying an annual fee. The fee collects money for roads from hybrid and electric vehicle owners who don’t pay as much in gas taxes as other drivers. Sen. Mike Bohacek (R-LaPorte) says the state has only given out about 30 of these electric/hybrid motorcycle licenses so far. It passed unanimously in the Senate, but didn’t make it past a House committee.
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.