Gov. Eric Holcomb delivered his State of the State address Jan. 14, a yearly speech where the state’s chief executive touts victories and successes in the past year and talks about challenges Hoosiers will face now and in the future.
With mentions of environmental success in the “Crossroads of America” and a surprise commitment to the state’s timberlands, environmental issues took up a substantial portion of the governor’s 33-minute speech
“Now, being the Crossroads of America means more than just building roads. That’s why we’re cleaning up our highways, having picked up nearly 16 million pounds of litter just last year.”
The Indiana Department of Transportation is responsible for maintaining more than 29,600 lane miles of highways across the state.
The most recently available public data shows that between April 2018 and April 2019, the state had 12 contracts for litter collection on urban roads that covered 634 centerline miles of road. The state also had five contracts for 764 rural interstate miles.
The contracts resulted in the collection of 39,603 cubic yards of litter. According to INDOT, one litter removal contract alone collected 2,339 bags of litter weighing 15 tons.
INDOT also has a Hoosier Beautification initiative made up four programs designed to reduce roadside trash, promote highway cleanliness, improve the environment and create “welcoming gateways.”
“We’re finishing our due diligence on a fourth water port in Lawrenceburg, and facilitating the investment of $436 million in 20 communities to improve local community water infrastructure. Just part of what cities all over our state are already doing to enhance their water systems.”
The possible development of the state’s fourth water port in Lawrenceburg has been put on hold until its current owners complete an environmental remediation plan.
Tanners Creek Development LLC announced plans to sell the former Tanners Creek Power Plant to Ports of Indiana, the state’s port authority, in 2017. The purchase agreement allows for a due diligence period that allows Ports of Indiana to assess the environmental and economic viability of the 725-acre site.
Although the land sale was expected to be completed by December 2018, the time period to allowed to purchase the land has been extended by six months multiple times. During that time, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and environmental advocacy groups found that the area has high amounts of toxic coal ash residue that makes surrounding waterways vulnerable to contamination.
The deal has not yet been finalized.
Holcomb also spoke of a $436 million water infrastructure investment in 20 communities. That money comes from a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act loan announced in October.
The state combined the loan money with funds from the Indiana State Revolving Fund to lend a total of $900 million to support water projects across the state.
More than 60% of that amount, or $547.5 million, will finance Indianapolis’ Dig Indy Tunnel System.
CLEAN AIR AND WATER
“Furthermore, Indiana has the cleanest air and water since the Clean Air and Water Acts passed in the 1970s.”
Overall, air quality in the United States has improved since the passage of the Clean Air Act in 1970, but that trend may no longer apply to Indiana.
Levels for criteria pollutants, or the six most common toxic air pollutants, and air toxins have decreased due to reinforcement of Clean Air Act regulations by multiple presidential administrations and, in some cases, the introduction of stricter standards.
Federal data indicates that air pollution in some Indiana counties has worsened since 2015. Ozone pollution increased in nearly all monitored cities and in more than half of monitored Indiana counties between 2015 and 2018.
That decrease in air quality can lead to reduced lung function, respiratory infections and many other cardiovascular and respiratory problems, including premature death.
Water quality is also on the decline.
According to IDEM reports, the number of Indiana waterways the state considers “impaired” has doubled over the last decade. In 2010, the state reported 3,149 total waterbody impairments. Nearly a decade later, that number jumped to 6,738.
IDEM also reported that the number of streams contaminated with E. coli bacteria, PCBs and ammonia has also greatly increased.
“And we now have four times more timberland acreage than we did 100 years ago. Recently, I learned that the Central Indiana Land Trust has committed to planting 1 million trees throughout Indiana to buffer some of our most iconic natural areas. I’m proud to announce tonight that I’ve directed the Department of [Natural] Resources to plant another million trees on top of that over the next five years. That extra timberland will perfectly complement our $100 million-dollar investment and renovation of our incredible memory-making state parks.”
According to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, the state has nearly 4.9 million acres of forest land, an increase of about 1.2% since 2012.
Gov. Holcomb said he was matching the Central Indiana Land Trust’s goal to plant 1 million trees by ordering DNR to plant 1 million more trees in the next five years.
“We applaud this investment and join him in the vision of increasing Indiana’s forested land,” the organization said in a statement. “Not only will these initiatives sequester carbon, helping to mitigate the effects of climate change – planting trees also helps solve multiple issues, from habitat fragmentation to downstream flooding. All while making sure that tomorrow’s children have lovely forested areas to explore.”
Central Indiana Land Trust executive director Cliff Chapman said the organization plans to plant the trees to buffer places like Meltzer Woods in Shelby County, strategically convert farmland back to forest and reduce downstream flooding across the state.
Details of the planting plan have not yet been released.