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Bill would keep state rules from exceeding EPA standards

Updated: March 11, 2014 6:03AM



A bill that has passed the Indiana House would limit the environmental rules state officials could impose.

H.B. 1143 would require that Indiana’s environmental rules and standards could not surpass federal environmental rules and standards.

That limits would apply to any rule or standards passed by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management’s Environmental Rules Board; they could be no more stringent than any corresponding federal standard or rule set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The bill passed the House 68-28 on Jan. 28.

Jesse Kharbanda, the executive director of the Hoosier Environmental Council, opposes the bill, saying it would prevent IDEM from dealing with issues the federal government fails to adequately address.

“The state executive branch would be barred from acting in a way that is more protective of public health,” Kharbanda said.

Northwest Indiana has several coal-fired plants with coal-ash sludge lagoons. Kharbanda said federal standards and safeguards governing those lagoons are not as good as they could be. This law would keep the state from taking action.

“There’s no reason, in short, to tie the hands of the executive branch from being respondent to the environmental challenges that are not adequately addressed by the federal government,” Kharbanda said.

Rep. David Wolkins, R- Warsaw, is the author of House Bill 1143. Wolkins said federal EPA rules are hardly minimal standards.

“I think the bar is plenty high,” Wolkins said.

And, he said, Indiana already is more stringent than the federal government on some issues, including the use of wood burners.

In southern Indiana, Wolkins said, there were wood burners in low-lying subdivisions, and it became a problem, so the state adopted more stringent rules than the federal government.

Wolkins decided to author the bill to prevent negative economic repercussions for the state if in the future new members of the Environmental Rules Board call for tests or standards the state cannot afford. He said the federal regulations are “plenty strong” for the state.

Kharbanda said there safeguards in place to prevent IDEM and other state officials from “running amok” and creating policy that is “bad for business.”

Existing Indiana law prevents public policy that is lopsided or overly expensive, Kharbanda said.

For one thing, Kharbanda said, policy makers are required to make clear what the cost impact of their policies are. They must carefully evaluate a number of ways to reach the same goal and consider the costs of each option.

Two years ago, the Indiana legislature passed a law requiring the state to do a “look-back analysis” on a new state policy created by the Environmental Rules Board after the policy has been in place for three years. The analysis would have to show that the benefits of the policy over three years exceed the costs of the policy over the same time, Kharbanda said.

And besides, if the Environmental Rules Board created a policy which upset the business community, then the business community could go to the state legislature to ask to have it repealed, Kharbanda added.

Wolkins said if there is a situation where the state needs to step in and change federal standards, IDEM can use its emergency procedures to make a new rule exceeding the federal standard. However, he said he wishes the legislature would be in charge of surpassing federal environmental standards if needed.

“If we’re going to exceed federal regulations I would just as soon the legislature make that decision rather than an unelected bureaucrat,” he said.



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