Indiana Lawmaker Tries To Seriously Limit The State’s Ability To Make Environmental Rules

CREDIT: (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, looks over some documents in 2015. While Democrats are in the minority, Indiana lawmakers will be voting on a Republican bill that could hinder the state's ability to regulate pollution.

State lawmakers are often at odds with Washington when it comes to prescribed environmental laws. But Indiana may soon become an odd exception with a sweeping environmental rule that some critics have called one of the worst legislative bills the state has considered.

The commonly called “no more stringent than” bill would prohibit state policymakers from creating environmental rules that go beyond comparable federal standards. More than 13 local organizations oppose the measure, according to Indiana’s Hoosier Environmental Council, which said the bill would hinder the state’s ability to swiftly address local pollution problems or water emergencies like those happening in Flint, Michigan.

In Flint, where lead in water infected the blood of children and left thousands of residents without safe tap water, lax regulations and other gaps caused the slow response by federal and city officials. If something similar were to happen in Indiana, critics say, the state would be unable to respond through regulatory action and would have to wait for federal action.

“This law is pretty unnecessary,” Kim Ferraro, Hoosier Environmental Council senior staff attorney, told ThinkProgress. “Putting handcuffs on state regulators in this way seems like an over-the-top, drastic measure.”

Critics are also concerned about how vague the law is, noting this ambiguity would affect how the state implements major federal regulations, like the Clean Water Act, that control pollution. This act, similar to other federal pollution laws, is meant to give minimum guidelines while granting broad powers to a state that can then address local concerns through detailed laws.

“How would you compare a very broad federal guideline to detailed state regulations to determine whether or not it’s more stringent?” Said Ferraro, who explained the bill could put the state at an increased risk of litigation when trying to enforce laws.

This isn’t the first time that State Rep. David Wolkins, a Republican who chairs the Committee on Environmental Affairs, introduced the bill. In fact, Ferraro said she’s seen the bill fail for at least past five years. However, this time it could be different.

“We fear that the tide is turning a little bit,” said Ferraro, as the bill has gathered unprecedented support in the state’s lower house. Republican lawmakers hold a supermajority of the legislature, she said, and seem emboldened to counter stringent environmental regulations in response to the federal Clean Power Plan.

Wolkins’ office declined to comment. However, in 2014 he told the Associated Press that his bill is meant to protect Indiana industries from costly state regulations. “Political appointees come and go. And if we get somebody who is a very rabid environmentalist, the fact is, they just don’t pay any attention to the cost of things,” he said.

The bill is slated for vote Wednesday.