The Indiana General Assembly’s 2023 legislative session has come to an end, and dozens of bills that affect the environment directly or indirectly will soon become state law.
A majority of the bills are intended to make operating in Indiana more profitable for electric and water utilities or their fuel suppliers. By the Indiana Environmental Reporter’s count, Indiana lawmakers passed 15 bills affecting utilities, including some that allow them to pass more of their costs directly to consumers, prolong the life of fossil fuels and place more hurdles in the way of large-scale renewable energy system adoption.
Indiana lawmakers also passed eight bills affecting various parts of state water issues in the state. Some of the bills target water infrastructure funding and make it easier for schools and childcare facilities to test for contaminants. Other bills focus on changing how the state regulates new types of septic tanks, water districts and other issues.
Lawmakers this year also focused on establishing and funding economic development initiatives that would help develop brownfields and reclaim coal mines but would tax drivers who use fossil fuel alternatives and punishe financial institutions who choose to limit their investment in fossil fuels.
Bills regulating new technology in the state, like small modular nuclear reactors, carbon capture and sequestration and advanced recycling have also passed, as well as bills that authorized land use studies and PFAS blood monitoring for firefighters.
The Indiana General Assembly passed bills that establish a five-pillar guideline for making energy policy decisions, make it more difficult for utilities to retire coal-fired power plants, allow utilities to pass on the costs of coal ash pond cleanups and other expenditures to customers, eliminate competitive bidding for transmission lines, allow natural gas-fired power plants to qualify as a “clean energy project,” and ensure that a planned state coal ash permitting program will be as lenient as federal law allows it to be.
Lawmakers also passed a bill that would allow the Environmental Rules Board to update air permit fees, establish guidelines for communities to accept solar and wind energy systems and study the best practices for the disposal of solar panels and wind turbine blades.
Other bills passed would authorize pay raises for water district board members, require state homeland security authorization for expanding battery energy storage systems, set the foundation for further taxing of utilities with wind energy systems and authorize a state program to pay for half of the costs of decommissioning or replacing underground petroleum tanks.
WATER POLICY BILLS
Indiana lawmakers passed two bills authored by the same legislator that deal with flood plains in different ways. Senate Bill 242 repeals the requirement for local floodplain administrators to use the best available floodplain mapping data when reviewing permit applications to build in or near a floodplain, while Senate Bill 412, among other flooding issues, prohibits the same administrators from issuing building permits if those permits threaten eligibility in the National Flood Insurance Program.
The Indiana General Assembly also passed bills expanding the use of above-ground onsite residential sewage discharging disposal systems in place of repairing old septic tanks, changing the requirement for water system mercury permit changes when they are proven not to contribute to Ohio River mercury problems and requiring water systems not subject to the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission to require commission approval before building new wastewater treatment plants.
Other bills make it easier for communities to receive infrastructure loans and grants from the Indiana Finance Authority, require lead testing and mitigation at preschools and child care facilities and ease the process for counties to join a watershed development commission.
NEW TECH BILLS
Some of the bills passed by the Indiana General Assembly address regulation of energy technologies attempting to make a foothold in the state, like small modular nuclear reactors, regulating carbon sequestration projects and stored carbon, removing solid waste disposal requirements for “advanced” plastic recycling and expanding opportunities for waste diversion and recycling.
Lawmakers from northern Indiana wrote successful bills that address PFAS contamination for firefighters. House Bill 1341 prohibits Indiana fire departments from purchasing firefighting gear unless there is a label indicating whether the gear contains PFAS chemicals. House Bill 1219 authorizes the Indiana Department of Homeland Security to establish a PFAS biomonitoring pilot program that will test firefighter blood for PFAS chemicals.
Other bills focused on future land use in Indiana. House Bill 1132 creates a land use task force to study food insecurity areas and track growth and development in communities across the state. House Bill 1557 directs the State Department of Agriculture to conduct an inventory of farmland lost in Indiana between 2010 and 2022 and the causes of the loss. House Bill 1601 exempts some forestry operations from requiring a permit for logging.
ENVIRONMENTAL BILLS FOCUSED ON ECONOMIC INTERESTS
Some of the bills passed by the Indiana General Assembly are focused on projects that would develop the economies of certain state regions by addressing some environmental issues.
Senate Bill 434 addresses several economic development issues in Lake County, one of which is the establishment of a fund to demolish blighted property in Gary, a city with multiple Superfund sites and other environmental issues. Other bills establish a strategic development commission in northeast Indiana and a transit development district in some northern Indiana counties to establish a passenger rail link to Chicago.
House Bill 1008 establishes a state blacklist for financial institutions that participate in non-finance-based environmental, societal and governance issue-based investments. House Bill 1050 establishes a tax on vehicles not powered by fossil fuels. House Bill 1106 establishes a $5 million yearly tax credit for coal mine landowners to develop the land.
Gov. Eric Holcomb has until May 8 to decide whether he will sign the bills into law. If he vetoes any of the legislation, the Indiana General Assembly can override the veto with a simple majority.
You can track the bills here.