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The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, January 19, 2016 10:01 pm

Bad bill is back

If recycling really bad bills helped the environment, the Indiana legislature would get a green award every year.

In fact, one of the worst legislative bills being considered once again this session is an anti-environmental-regulation measure that  Rep. David Wolkins, R-Winona Lake, has been pushing for years.  

House Bill 1082, popularly called the “no more stringent than” bill, would forbid Indiana officials from making or enforcing any environmental rule that is stronger than rules established under federal law.

Yes, that’s right. Under this proposal, Indiana, where support for “state rights” over “federal mandates” usually comes as naturally as breathing, would voluntarily cede its ability to respond to state or regional environmental problems to the dreaded U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or other federal rulemakers. 

The bill supposedly would make it easier for multistate companies to do business in Indiana. Anyone who’s familiar with our state’s conservative approach to pollution control might find that rationale shaky. 

But what does seem clear is that the “no more stringent than” rule would severely limit Indiana’s ability to respond to environmental hazards that might be vaguely addressed by federal law but that require specific solutions at the state or local level. 

Tim Maloney, senior policy director at the Hoosier Environmental Council, points to “drinking-water catastrophes” in Charleston, West Virginia; North Carolina; and, most recently, Flint, Michigan. If similar crises happened here, he said, the ability of state officials to respond effectively could be compromised byHB 1082.  

But Maloney contends the biggest problem with HB 1082 may be that it doesn’t define what it means to be “more stringent than.” State regulators whose job it is to turn broad state and federal rules into detailed policies could be hamstrung. 

Consider, for instance, enforcement of the U.S. Clean Air Act’s rules for controlling six health-threatening pollutants that come from a variety of sources: particulates, ozone, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and lead. 

The federal law, Maloney explained, sets general limits on these pollutants but allows each state to determine how those limits are achieved.

“The state can look at all the pollution sources and look at how much they emit,” Maloney said. Then, state regulators can establish limits on individual emission sites or types of pollution sources.  

“There’s a lot of flexibility in how that gets done,” Maloney said. But with a vague “no more stringent than” law hanging over the process, the state’s discretion over its own air quality rules could be second-guessed at every turn. State regulators could face a stream of litigation for simply trying to enforce the law, Maloney said. 

The House Environment Committee will be looking at HB 1082 at a hearing this morning in Indianapolis. Legislators would be wise to quickly send it back to the recycling pile.