By SUMMER BALLENTINE
After spending two decades pushing to make sure Indiana’s environmental standards aren’t stricter than the national ones, state Rep. David Wolkins said he didn’t consider it a setback Monday when a Senate committee denied the bill once again.
Just talking about the bill represented progress, Wolkins said.
“I’m not disappointed at all,” said Wolkins, a Republican from Winona Lake. “That was all I intended to get out of it at this point. We will have the discussion again.”
The Senate Environmental Affairs Committee held a rare discussion on the proposal Monday, but Chairman Ed Charbonneau declined to present the bill for a vote during the panel’s last meeting of the legislative session. The House had approved the measure 68-28 on Jan. 28.
“We appreciate the chairman’s wisdom,” Hoosier Environmental Council Executive Director Jesse Kharbanda said of Charbonneau’s action.
The bill would have blocked the Environmental Rules Board from creating standards stricter than current federal regulations, which Wolkins said would prevent excessive and expensive regulations for industries. Lawmakers still would have the power to go further than federal rules, Wolkins said.
Businesses and agricultural lobbyists were among those who spoke in favor of the bill during nearly two hours of testimony.
“If it’s the position of the state that we should have more stringent standards, we should not be relying on the federal law itself,” said Justin Schneider, senior policy adviser and counsel for the Indiana Farm Bureau. “The General Assembly should authorize that.”
Critics say the measure would have tied regulators’ hands and stopped the state from tailoring Indiana-specific environmental policies.
Former Republican state Sen. Beverly Gard, who chaired the Environmental Affairs Committee until her retirement in 2012, previously refused to hold a hearing for the bill. Gard now heads the Environmental Rules Board. She has called the bill “bad public policy.”