Environmental stewardship is as much about attracting high-paying jobs to Indiana as it is about public health.
Companies – particularly entrepreneurial enterprises and small businesses – dont decide to relocate to a state because that state is known for its lack of enforcement of air-quality laws or a willingness to look the other way when industrial pollution fouls state waterways. To the contrary, businesses choose communities that offer clear and fair regulatory policies as well as attractive quality-of-life amenities for their employees.
Considering the candidates claim their top priority is improving the economy and attracting jobs to Indiana, environmental issues should be an important deciding factor in the race for governor. But the two major-party candidates for governor, Republican Mike Pence and John Gregg, former Indiana House speaker and Democratic nominee, appear to be treating environmental issues almost as an afterthought. Rupert Boheham is the Libertarian candidate.
Indianas abysmal reputation for environmental protection is only serving to harm elected officials economic development efforts.
Embarrassingly, Forbes rated Indiana as 49th out of 50 in its ranking of Americas Greenest States in a 2007 article that compared states air and water quality, hazardous waste management, environmental policies and energy consumption. In 2010, Environmental Leader, an environmental and energy management trade publication, ranked Indiana last in the nation as a green state. And a 2012 report from Environment America based on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data ranked Indiana as the worst state in the nation for water pollution.
The challenge with these candidates is that they are good at stating the challenges and broad-stroke solutions, but not really stating specifics on legislation they would back, said Jesse Kharbanda, executive director of the Hoosier Environmental Council.
U.S. Rep. Mike Pence has made putting a moratorium on regulations a major tenet of his campaign for governor.
The most damaging environmental regulations for Hoosiers are coming in the form of mandates from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Washington, D.C. wrote Pence in an email. The State Utility Forecasting Group at Purdue University estimates that, when fully implemented, the new EPA rules will increase Hoosiers electricity prices by 14 percent. If elected governor, I will lead the effort to push back against these regulations which will threaten to choke off all the economic progress weve made.
But it is important to remember that every regulation is put in place for a reason. Enforcing regulations to reduce the amount of pollution discharged into the air or rivers is not simply a pesky impediment to industry. It ensures Hoosiers have clean air to breathe and safe water to drink.
Gregg said he wants to review all state regulations based on three criteria: Are they based in science, do they make sense from a cost-benefit analysis and are they rooted in Hoosier common sense. He promises to jettison any that dont meet those standards and make certain future regulations also pass that test.
Ensuring regulations pass scientific muster is wise. Passing the Hoosier common sense test is much more subjective.
Kharbandas group is concerned that the next governor will make drastic cuts in funding to state departments such as the Indiana Department of Environmental Management or the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.
Pence points to the great progress Gov. Mitch Daniels administration has made in streamlining IDEM. We think it is extremely important that we continue those efforts.
Gregg, who authored the bill that created the Indiana Heritage Trust license plate that helps pay for environmental causes, said any budget changes will depend on how much money Indiana has in the bank.
His comments are likely meant as a reminder to voters about the state audit under way because of accounting errors from the Daniels administration.
Its so important that the next governor doesnt make environmental funding something of a punching bag, especially in light of the heated rhetoric going on at the national level, Kharbanda said. I think the next governor has to ensure that the environmental budget is appropriately funded so it can truly safeguard Hoosiers who are hurting because of pollution and cleanup areas that are promising places for investment.
Both candidates were asked about what strategy the state should take to improve and protect water quality, especially to reduce toxic blue-green algae blooms.
A representative from Pences campaign declined to answer because of time limitations.
Gregg responded that ensuring clean drinking water is one of the basic functions of government, but he does not think blanket regulations are the answer. He suggested local concerns need to be considered and solutions should come from collaboration among farmers, businessmen and environmental advocates.
He is right about not looking exclusively to Indianapolis for solutions. In 2007, the Steuben County commissioners adopted an ordinance to restrict phosphorus fertilizers. But in 2010, state lawmakers passed legislation that granted authority for regulating fertilizer to the appointed state chemist, overruling Steuben officials.
Lawmakers also failed to pass similar legislation to reduce pollution runoff in the last legislative session.
I think the candidates, to the extent that they are silent on the environmental issues, are missing an opportunity to talk about an issue that will help the economy as well as Hoosiers, Kharbanda said. The blue-green algae problem is an excellent example. Tourism is a multimillion-dollar sector.
He noted that incidents such as the two dogs that died in July after swimming in Salamonie Reservoir are not only bad because they discourage people from wanting to visit state recreational destinations but also because the poor water quality endangers public health.
Candidates are reluctant to talk about environmental issues because they are concerned it will paint them as opposed to growth, Kharbanda said. But weve long held the belief that you can structure environmental policy in a way that protects the environment and promotes growth.
The Hoosier Environmental Council is working with agricultural representatives to look for ways to reduce runoff and is drafting legislation for lawmakers consideration.
The council, along with the League of Women Voters, the Indiana Public Health Association, the Indiana Citizens Alliance for Transit and the Indiana Conservation Alliance, will co-sponsor a forum with the lieutenant governor candidates to discuss state agricultural and other related issues on Thursday at the Indiana History Center in Indianapolis. The lieutenant governor is responsible for oversight of agricultural and rural issues in Indiana.
State Sen. Vi Simpson, the Democratic candidate, and Libertarian Brad Klopfenstein have confirmed they are participating. But Republican state Rep. Sue Ellspermann has declined. Her campaign did offer to meet with the environmental council individually.
It is politics as usual, said Barbara Sha Cox of Indiana CAFO Watch, who is also a corn and soybean farmer. We are going to hear from candidates what we want to hear, but what Im looking for is a willingness to work with the citizens. Im looking for open government.
Cox wants state leaders to consider legislation requiring large confined animal feeding operations to have a financial insurance package in place before they are allowed to set up operations in Indiana. The money could be used for cleanup if the CAFO causes any environmental damage.
She suggests every candidate needs to look at Indianas list of impaired waters, research the problems with blue-green algae and review the virtual file cabinet on the Indiana Department of Environmental Management website to see all of the violations from CAFOs. Then you wonder if IDEM is enforcing like they should be, Cox said.
Both of the major-party candidates have demonstrated enthusiastic support for Indiana coal companies. Pence has pictures from his visit to the Peabody mine in Buckskin posted on his website. Gregg is a former lobbyist for the coal industry.
How does that square with energy diversification? Kharbanda asked. Why put more of our eggs in one basket?
Gregg thinks we need an all-of-the-above approach to energy in Indiana, developing all safe options. That means supporting both coal and clean coal and also alternative energy. He touts the energy sector as an area where Indiana is poised to lead in job creation.
Pence attributes Indianas economic success compared with neighboring states in part to Indianas low-cost energy. While he thinks the state needs to explore all options on the energy front, he said he is opposed to mandates for renewable sources of energy that will raise the price of energy for Hoosiers.
If Congressman Pence is truly sincere in his commitment to bring jobs, he needs to sit down with groups like ours to talk about ways to bring jobs in a way that protects the environment, promotes competition and alternative energy, Kharbanda said.
So, far Pence has not accepted an invitation to meet with representatives from the Hoosier Environmental Council.
Gregg has made time to meet with us, Kharbanda said. We felt encouraged in that conversation in his recognition that renewable energy, transit and high-speed rail offer promising opportunities to revitalize Indiana manufacturing.
But Kharbanda also said wed like to see him take the next step in offering some policy solutions or even the framework for some policy solutions so it becomes more of a core part of his economic agenda.