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Tuesday, February 7, 2023

What environmental bills to expect in the Statehouse this session 

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The Indiana General Assembly will reconvene for the 2023 legislative session Jan. 9. The focus will be on public health and education, while some lawmakers have their sights set on environmental protections. 

The Hoosier Environment Council (HEC) is calling for an increase in funding for conservation, wetlands protections and environmental health, while lawmakers have filed bills to create tax credits and improve infrastructure. 

Increased conservation spending 

The HEC and the Indiana Conservation Alliance are seeking new state investments to conserve forests, rivers, wetlands and native fish and wildlife that depend on those habits. Indiana’s state parks are steadily growing with increases in visitors each year, and increases in trail use have led to a demand for land conservation that exceeds Indiana’s current conservation budget proposal. 

Last year, thanks to federal investments, Indiana invested more in conservation than it has in the last 10 years. However, in 2021, the state’s total conservation investment dipped to its lowest since 2016. 

Holcomb’s 2023 agenda includes $50 million for an existing trail program and $25 million for land conservation efforts. 

Larry Clemens, state director of the Indiana Chapter of the Nature Conservancy, said the proposal for land conservation is the most significant commitment of state funding since the General Assembly created the Indiana Heritage Trust —renamed the President Benjamin Harrison Conservation Trust in 2016 — 30 years ago. 

“At a time when our legislators are considering important issues like education, economic development and Hoosiers’ overall well-being, it’s important to recognize the role nature plays in all of these aspects of life,” Clemens said in a statement. “Gov. Holcomb’s proposed investment in natural Indiana bolsters all the other important programs the state will undertake in the next budget.” 

Climate and energy 

The HEC also wants legislation requiring Indiana to adopt a state climate action plan. More than half of U.S. states have adopted or are updating their climate action plans. The HEC also supports legislation enabling the expansion of community solar and opposes legislation that hampers renewable energy deployment or that mandates electric utilities to continue burning coal. 

Sen. Greg Walker, R-Columbus, filed a bill that would direct the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission to conduct a joint study concerning decommissioning and disposal of solar panels. The bill would require IDEM and IURC to report findings and recommendations no later than Nov. 1. 

Sen. J.D. Ford, D-Indianapolis, filed a bill prohibiting utility companies from terminating services in the summer for those who are eligible and have applied for energy assistance. 

Rep. Dave Heine, R-Fort Wayne, filed a biofuel tax credit bill that would provide tax credits for the sale of ethanol blend and blended biodiesel. Biofuels are fuels produced from living matter and renewable materials, according to the EPA.  

Wetlands and environmental health  

A bill to establish a local unit water infrastructure fund has also been introduced by Rep. Randall Frye, R-Lake Forest. The fund would provide grants, loans and other financial assistance to repair, replace or increase water infrastructure and lead service lines. The bill would require the Indiana Finance Authority to adopt guidelines to establish criteria for making grants and providing loans and would require, if possible, the authority to allocate at least 50% of the total amounts to counties that have a population of 50,000 or less. 

The Hoosier Environmental Council’s website lists several other proposals it would like to see in the legislature, including legislation requiring child care centers to test their drinking water for lead, new tax credits for wetland protection and legislation to improve state oversight of coal ash disposal sites. 

Contact staff writer Jayden Kennett 317-762-7847 or by email jaydenk@indyrecorder.com. Follow her on Twitter @JournoJay. 

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