HEC Action Fund 2003-2004 Voting Study
The HEC Action Fund biannual voting study rates Indiana legislators’ voting records on a variety of important environmental proposals. This study covers the 2003 and 2004 sessions. It includes votes on bills that HECAF and other citizens groups considered environmental priorities or that significantly affected Indiana environmental policy.
Highlights of the Sessions
The state’s budget crisis dominated the 2003 Indiana General Assembly, although several key environmental issues received serious attention. In an action sought by conservationists, the late Governor O’Bannon vetoed three environmental bills that would have seriously weakened Indiana’s environmental protection efforts.
Spending cuts to address Indiana’s $800 million budget deficit resulted in both the Department of Environmental Management and the Department of Natural Resources budgets being reduced by over 10%. On the positive side, the budget did include new fees on public drinking water suppliers which will generate $2 million annually to help fund IDEM’s seriously inadequate drinking water program. HEC led the effort to get these fees adopted.
The dominant environmental issue in both sessions was wetlands protection. In 2001, a Supreme Court ruling overturned existing federal protection for isolated wetlands, which are wetlands not connected to a body of water. The Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) proposed state rules to protect isolated wetlands, but the legislature halted the rulemaking because of an outcry from various business groups. The resulting act, HEA 1798, is a very weak law that places more emphasis on replacement of isolated wetlands lost to development rather than preservation. Confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and renewable energy were also big issues over the last two sessions.
Voting studies are valuable tools in evaluating legislators’ performance on environmental issues. They do not, however, provide a complete picture of their efforts, since committee votes, bill authorship, or leadership behind the scenes are generally not considered. Readers should base their judgment of their legislator on votes over several sessions, how responsive the legislator is, and what level of leadership he or she demonstrates on the environment. Citizens should get to know their legislators and follow their activities and votes carefully over time to fully evaluate their record.
HB 1798 This bill, introduced by Rep. Bottorff (D-Jeffersonville), established a state permitting program for isolated wetlands but incorporated so many exemptions that few isolated wetlands would have been protected. Several versions of wetlands legislation had stalled earlier in the session but were revived at the last minute in conference committee. Isolated wetlands represent about one-third of Indiana’s remaining wetlands acreage and provide important environmental functions such as water filtration, groundwater recharge and fish and wildlife habitat. Indiana has already lost 85% of its original wetlands area. The bill passed the House by 67 to 27 and in the Senate by 41 to 8. Governor O’Bannon vetoed the bill, but that veto was overturned in the next session. No was the correct vote.
HB 1977 Rep. Friend (R-Macy) authored this bill in order to stop the Department of Natural Resources from regulating game farms where confined whitetail deer are hunted. Game farms where deer are hunted have been linked to the spread of disease to wild herds, particularly west of the Mississippi. The bill passed the House on a 57 to 41 vote, but never received a hearing in the Senate. No was the correct vote.
SB 440 This bill, introduced by Senator Gard (R-Greenfield), would have forced Indiana to adopt the Bush administration’s rollbacks to the Clean Air Act by March of 2004. These rollbacks pertain to the Clean Air Act’s “New Source Review” provisions that require new sources to meet strong emission standards and require old polluting industries to clean up emissions when they make major modifications. The bill also makes certain permitting data confidential and not available to the public. As many as 260 Hoosiers and 9,000 citizens nationwide die every year due to pollution from power plants violating “New Source Review.” As many as 5,200 asthma attacks in Indiana and 170,000 nationwide are also caused by these same power plants. The bill passed 48 to 0 in the Senate and 76 to 21 in the House, but was later vetoed by Governor O’Bannon. No was the correct vote.
SB 533 Senator Jackman’s (R-Milroy) bill was intended to streamline permitting for new and existing confined animal feeding operations under new federal requirements. Factory livestock and poultry farms are significant sources of water pollution, and are responsible for many fish kills occurring in Indiana waterways. The bill would have minimized public notice before confined feeding operations are built, made it very difficult for concerned citizens to monitor whether confined feeding operations are complying with the law and eliminated state oversight of design and construction phases of confined feeding operations. It passed the Senate by 48 to 1 and the House by 73 to 19. Former Governor O’Bannon vetoed the bill. No was the correct vote.
HB 1798 Veto Override (see description above) Despite the efforts of wetlands advocates around the state, both the Indiana House and Senate voted to override the veto of House Enrolled Act 1798, which passed the legislature in 2003. HEA 1798 was intended to give the state the authority to regulate isolated wetlands, but it contained so many loopholes and exceptions that most of Indiana’s isolated wetlands would lose protection. The override passed the House by a vote of 63 to 30, and the Senate by 34 to 13. No was the correct vote.
As a companion to the veto override, Rep. Jim Bottorff (D-Jeffersonville) introduced HB 1277, a bill to amend HEA 1798. HB 1277 eliminates one of HEA 1798’s worst provisions – a definition of pond that may have widely exempted many Indiana waters from the pollution protections of the Clean Water Act. Unfortunately the efforts of conservationists, Rep. Matt Pierce (D-Bloomington) and Sen. Bev Gard (R-Greenfield) to correct other significant deficiencies in the new wetlands law were unsuccessful.
HB 1017 Rep. Grubb (D-Covington) introduced this bill, which addressed several issues. Of largest concern was a provision that exempted septic tanks from ground water standards for nitrates and nitrites. Numerous septic systems are failing across the state, and believed to be significantly impacting water quality. The bill also prohibits IDEM from adopting any rules more stringent than federal standards until July 1, 2006. The bill passed the House by 78 to 8, and was unopposed in the Senate. No was the correct vote.
HB 1446 This bill, authored by Representatives Bauer, Van Haaften, and Espich, would have allowed the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) to issue bonds that were to be paid off by future federal transportation dollars. This fiscally irresponsible bill would have allowed INDOT to jump start bad projects such as the I-69 highway, and would have reduced the overall amount of transportation dollars Indiana would receive in the long run for a short term gain. The bill passed the House by 67 to 30, but never received a hearing in the Senate. An attempt to amend the bonding language into a Senate bill also failed. No was the correct vote.
HB 1212 Rep. Dvorak’s (D-South Bend) bill would have made the use of alternative energy sources such as wind and solar more attractive to home owners and small businesses by allowing net metering of up to 10 kilowatts. Net metering is an electric utility program that allows utility customers to install solar or wind facilities at their homes or businesses and receive the retail rate for the electricity they generate, minus customer charges like metering and billing. The bill passed the House 92 to 1. In the Senate, Jim Merritt (R-Indpls), chair of the Senate Utility and Regulatory Affairs Committee, did not give HB 1212 a hearing. However, as a result of his and Rep. Dvorak’s urging, the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission announced that a rulemaking would be initiated on the issue. Yes was the correct vote.
A number of positive environmental bills were introduced in the 2003 and 2004 session, but for various reasons never received a committee hearing. These representatives and senators deserve thanks for their efforts.
- Rep. Dennis Avery (D- Evansville) introduced HB 1261 to address the largest un-regulated sources of mercury emissions: coal-fired power plants.
- Senator Lanane’s (D-Anderson SB 97) and Representative Pelath’s (D-Michigan City) HB 1773 would have established a private, nonprofit corporation to promote and enable greater use of sustainable energy in Indiana.
- Sen. Frank Mrvan (D-Hammond) introduced a Smart Growth bill, SB 271, which sought to limit sprawl, protect farmland and green spaces by directing state funding for infrastructure and economic development to existing urban areas. Senator Mrvan (D-Hammond) also introduced SB 273, which would have required IDEM to develop regulations to control odors from CAFOs.
- Representative Liggett’s (D-Red Key) HB 1560 required each CAFO to submit an odor control plan, and gave IDEM the ability to take action if those plans are not followed or do not adequately control odors.
- Senator Waterman’s (R-Shelburn) SB 361 and Representatives Adams’ (D-Muncie) and Richardson (R-Noblesville) HB 1891 banned the hunting of animals that are confined or restrained.
- HB 1338, authored by Rep. Scott Pelath (D-Michigan City) would have established the Indiana Sustainable Energy Institute. The Institute, guided by a stakeholder board, would administer a comprehensive set of statewide initiatives designed to deploy energy efficiency, distributed power and renewable energy technologies in Indiana.