By Greg Ellis, vice president of energy and environmental policy

The headline: A plan to address drinking water, wastewater and storm water management needs in Indiana should happen sooner rather than later. That’s all possible thanks to HB 1267 which establishes a water infrastructure taskforce to develop the long-awaited, long-term strategy.

This was a legislative priority for the Chamber and aligns with our 2014 water study and the Indiana Vision 2025 economic development plan. Leading the issue at the Statehouse were Rep. Ed Soliday (R-Valparaiso) and Sen. Ed Charbonneau (R-Valparaiso) who had dueling, similar pieces of legislation. While the matter seemed simple on its face, there was considerable disagreement between the House and Senate on specific language of the bill – particularly on who will serve on the taskforce. Things game down to the eleventh hour before a compromise was reached with language from SB 361 being placed in HB 1267, which passed in the nick of time.

Indiana’s outdated alcohol laws also received considerable attention in 2018. The General Assembly passed SB 1, which made it legal to buy alcohol on Sunday in Indiana. This wasn’t a priority issue for the Chamber but we believe that it was important to move on from this discussion (which the General Assembly did after years of debate). Along these lines, we also supported SB 26; it would have made it possible for pharmacies, grocery stores and convenience stores to sell cold beer, but it didn’t get the approval of the General Assembly despite having the support of many businesses and the public.

More Water Infrastructure Progress

Senate Bill 269, authored by Sen. Eric Koch (R-Bedford), requires the Indiana Department of Transportation to consider the impact on local commerce and residents when closing roads and bridges for construction, maintenance and/or repair. It also requires notice of regional water, sewage or solid waste districts’ plans to the executive of a city or town that has a municipal sewage works or public sanitation department having extraterritorial jurisdiction within the boundaries of the area to be included in the proposed district. This should help cut down on duplication of small water utility infrastructure.

Meanwhile, SB 362 requires a public water or wastewater utility that is organized as a legal entity after June 30, 2018, to be under the jurisdiction of the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC) for a period of 10 years. In the past, some of these utilities were able to opt out of IURC jurisdiction. As of July 1, 2017, just 78 of the 535 water utilities and 35 of the 551 wastewater utilities were under the jurisdiction of the IURC. These new utilities will also have to demonstrate that they have the financial, managerial, technical and legal capability of operating and maintaining their systems. This should cut down on the number of failing or distressed utilities that need to be taken over by another utility.

Environmental and Energy Tally Shows Mostly Victories

House Bill 1115 clarifies that a property owner is not liable for an injury when a person goes upon or through the owner’s land to access a trail, a greenway, a park or another similar area used for recreational purposes. The Chamber supported this bill because it should add protections and insulate businesses from certain lawsuits while creating more access to public recreation.

House Bill 1233 is the Indiana Department of Environmental Management’s (IDEM) annual omnibus bill for technical corrections and minor modifications. This bill is noteworthy because IDEM made some changes to its environmental crimes statute (Ind. Code 13-22) after consultation with the Chamber and other organizations. The changes are consistent with existing federal law. This was done in order for IDEM to have the ability to make modifications to existing programs delegated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In addition, IDEM is attempting to get Section 404 of the Clean Water Act permitting (dredging and wetlands) delegated from the federal government.

 The Chamber supported HB 1289, which would have restricted the power of a unit of local government (a county, city, town or township) to regulate the development of natural resources on private property. The legislation passed out of the House easily but failed to get a hearing in the Senate Natural Resources Committee. We supported the bill because it would have fixed problems that Indiana businesses have experienced with local government trying to prevent actions allowed under state permits or Indiana law. It also would have likely reduced litigation costs.

Other notable bills that died were ones the Chamber actively rallied against. House Bill 1403 would have increased waste disposal fees for many of our member companies. The bill was never taken up in committee. Senate Bill 168 would have banned the sale or use of coal tar pavement products. The Chamber and some member companies testified against the bill in committee, which is as far as the measure got.

On the energy watch, HB 1225 and HB 1338 both dealt with wind power and potential conflicts of interests at the local level when siting wind turbines. While the Chamber doesn’t believe there is a problem in this area, we nonetheless supported transparency in dealing with local government but opposed other restrictions being imposed on wind power generation.

Ultimately, HB 1225 did not receive any action while HB 1338 had a committee hearing but no vote. That was a welcome outcome given these had the potential to limit the expansion of and increase the cost of wind energy.

Resource: Greg Ellis at (317) 264-6881 or email: [email protected]