A dozen organizations and individuals from across the state and in the region have recently been recognized for their environmental advocacy and stewardship at the Hoosier Environmental Council’s 15th annual Greening the Statehouse event according to the HEC news release.
Earth Charter Indiana, a statewide climate justice organization, was recognized as Organization of the Year. This organization creates solutions to the climate crisis by working with youth and bringing their voices into the public policy domain to advance resiliency. Among ECI’s activities is an annual Climate Leadership Summit convening citizens and local government officials to discuss programs and policies in response to climate change. Another key initiative is The Thriving Schools Challenge, a K-12 green schools' program with an emphasis on civic engagement and circular economy. ECI also hosts Resiliency Coordinators in 12 Indiana cities, focused on advancing local climate-related projects.
Dr. Kristina Box, Indiana state health commissioner, was honored with the Improving Kids’ Environment award for her work in the prevention of lead poisoning in children. Under Dr. Box’s leadership, Indiana has made key strides in advancing lead safety for the youngest Hoosiers, convening a Lead Advisory Committee in 2019; lowering the state’s blood lead threshold to acknowledge that low-level exposure can have irreversible, lifelong impacts on children; allocating funds from House Enrolled Act 1007 to support the costs of providing in-home nursing and environmental inspection support to families living in leaded housing; working alongside partners at Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority to secure more than $6.7 million in funding for lead abatement and healthy homes upgrades over the next three years; and advocating legislation that takes effect in January 2023 that will require universal screening for lead in young children across the state.
Don’t Leave it to Beaver, a Hamilton County grassroots group, organized to stop the approval of a sand and gravel mining pit near the banks of the White River, was honored as a Frontline Organizer of the Year. DLITB was formed by neighbors in the Potter’s Woods and Fairfield Farms subdivisions in 2020 in response to an application co-filed by Beaver Materials and Hamilton County Parks to rezone a 50-acre area of residential and farmland along the White River, directly above the main aquifer supplying water to all of Noblesville. Studies of the site showed moderate risk to the local drinking water supply, and risk of air and noise pollution that would negatively impact wildlife habitat and migratory bird flight paths. Through research and consultation with industry professionals, DLITB won the fight to prevent rezoning of this ecologically sensitive area; in June 2022, seven out of nine members of the Noblesville Common Council voted to reject the gravel pit.
Katy Rogers, local/organic food advocate, was honored with the Sustainable Agriculture Champion of the Year award. She is a grower, an Indiana native and manager of Teter Organic Farm in Noblesville. The farm’s mission is to increase food security, provide ecological education, and build community. As a child, Rogers witnessed up close the loss of small family farms at the expense of people and the environment. She studied agriculture at Purdue University, and then earned a political science degree from Indiana University that led her to work in the communications and campaign management fields while maintaining her passion for food justice. In 2011, she began her own farm and her first Community Supported Agriculture program, which led to advocacy work for the hungry.
Canoe Country, a river outfitter in Delaware County on the West Fork of the White River, was given an award for Distinguished Service to Indiana’s environmental community. Canoe Country offers float trips, by canoe, kayak or tube, on a stretch of the White River that includes Mounds State Park. Owner Robbie Mixell purchased an existing canoe rental business in 2006 and continues to operate Canoe Country just across the river from Daleville’s Shellabarger Park. Besides hosting seven annual Rides for the Mounds, HEC’s bicycle outing highlighting the importance of protecting the White River valley, Mixell has outfitted numerous float trips to encourage community leaders to experience the river.
Ducks Unlimited Indiana, a non-profit that conserves wetlands for wildlife and people, has been named the Wetlands Steward of the Year. This year, Ducks Unlimited Indiana announced an initiative to help farmers plant 75,000 acres of cover crops in Indiana and Michigan that will improve soil health and reduce sediment running into Indiana waterways. Over the years, its conservation program has restored or enhanced almost 33,000 acres of wetlands and adjacent habitat. In the last two years, the organization increased its focus on wetland policy in Indiana, including significant engagement on the 2021 anti-wetlands bill at the Indiana statehouse.
Environmental Law and Policy Center, a public interest environmental legal advocacy organization, was named Legal Advocate of the Year. ELPC leads strategic environmental advocacy campaigns to protect natural resources, including the Great Lakes, and improve environmental quality across the region through legal strategy, economic analysis, public policy advocacy and research, and communications tools. Most recently, ELPC represented HEC in a successful legal action against a Lake Michigan polluter. The consent decree that resolved the case included a $3 million civil penalty, substantial new pollution control improvements at the Cleveland Cliffs Burns Harbor plant, increased water monitoring, and donation of 127 acres of open space that will eventually become part of Indiana Dunes National Park.
Fourth-generation farmer, Sugar Creek steward and conservation cropping innovator Kenny Cain of Montgomery County received a Lifetime Achievement Award. While developing, modeling, and teaching sustainable farming practices, he has worked for organizations that educate the community about how to protect soil and water quality. The Cain family routinely plants 50% of its acreage in cover crops, a practice that naturally suppresses soil diseases and pests while providing food and habitat for wildlife, beneficial insects and pollinators. Cain also serves on the Conservation Cropping Systems Initiative steering committee, a statewide working group that helps farmers apply science-based methods to improve soil health. He is also a charter member of Friends of Sugar Creek and worked on the Upper Sugar Creek Watershed Project.
Mitch Barloga, pedestrian and bike transportation planner and active transportation manager for the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission, was named Sustainability Champion of the Year. Since 2003, Barloga, of Dyer, has worked with governmental entities in Lake, Porter and LaPorte Counties to design and secure funding for pedestrian and bicycle facilities in the NIRPC region and beyond. He holds a master's degree in urban planning and policy from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Barloga serves as board president of the Greenways Foundation of Indiana and is a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners.
The Environmental Resilience Institute at IU was named Climate Advocate of the Year. ERI, with managing director Sarah Mincey, has been a leader in urban forest management issues statewide by supporting community-led work to study and plan for stronger green infrastructure. This year, ERI helped revive the state’s Urban Forestry Advisory Council, which is now planning to help communities steward urban forests for climate resilience. The organization is also recognized for its McKinney Climate Fellows program, which places undergraduate and graduate students with non-profits, governments and businesses for three-month terms of focused work on climate, sustainability and community resilience projects. Through ERI’s McKinney Midwest Climate Project, the institute connects Hoosier communities and organizations to experts and resources to help mitigate local greenhouse gas emissions and implement climate solutions and adaptation strategies.
Jerry Sweeten, of Denver, co-founder of Ecosystems Connections Institute, LLC and professor emeritus of biology and environmental studies at Manchester College, was named River and Streams Steward of the Year. Sweeten’s career has included educating students about water quality and researching nonpoint source pollution, nutrient and sediment pollution, and the reintroduction of endangered freshwater mussels in the Eel River. After his retirement in 2019, Sweeten and three collaborators started Ecosystems Connections Institute, a company that supplies holistic aquatic ecosystem restoration. The company’s work focuses on removing low head dams and establishing innovative fish passage solutions to allow aquatic species the room they need to move up and downstream.
The Coalition Against the Mid-States Corridor, a grassroots group formed in 2019 by concerned Dubois County residents opposed to the proposed new- terrain highway, received Frontline Organizer of the Year Award. Since 2020, the group has collected more than 8,000 signatures petitioning against the Mid-States Corridor, hosting two rallies, four town hall meetings, and workshops for helping residents with letters to the editor. The coalition has met with project managers from the Indiana Department of Transportation, Indiana Department of Environmental Management and the Federal Highway Administration Indiana Division to speak on behalf of preserving land for purposes other than roadbuilding.
The Greening the Statehouse event also featured panel discussions on progress toward cleaner waterways in Indiana, and the outlook for pro-environmental legislation in the 2022 election and the 2023 state legislative session.