2011 General Assembly: Eco-friend or foe? 

It's no secret that Indiana isn't a policy leader in clean energy, transportation, sustainable agriculture, or really anything environment-related. On the whole, Indiana treats the environment like the date it never calls back but still brags about to its friends.

Like when Indiana reached an agreement on a $2.65 billion coal-to-natural-gas plant and Gov. Mitch Daniels boasted: "We're out to become a leader in the high-tech field of cleaner energy."

The fact is, Indiana's environmental policies lag behind those of many other states, including some of its closest neighbors. Indeed, only in the parallel universe that is the Daniels-led Indiana would the state Department of Natural Resources advocate for something like Senate Bill 0071, which would lift a moratorium on drilling coal bed methane wells – a practice that's been shown to pollute groundwater supplies. And with Republicans controlling the governorship and both houses of the Statehouse for the first time in years, there's bound to be plenty more where that came from.

But not all is lost. Some Statehouse officials are playing catch-up by way of renewed efforts that would install PACE: Property Assessed Clean Energy program or better regulate concentrated animal feeding operations. A silver lining, perhaps, given other legislation that would promote fossil fuels as clean energy (SB 0015) and seize private lands for corporate profit (SB 0072), both of which will continue making a mess of our water and air.

Here's a sample of the good, the bad, and the dirty environmental legislation to watch out for in this legislative session. You can track all legislation making its way through the Indiana General Assembly here.

CAFO cock-ups

What's the bill? Everyone poops. We know that. It's natural. What isn't natural is when thousands of animals crammed together poop in the same place. It's not only disgusting, it's toxic. And when a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) goes under, taxpayers are the ones who get stuck with the clean-up bill.

Several bills that failed last year could be re-introduced in upcoming weeks. The Financial Assurance Bill would make sure that CAFOs had adequate funds available to clean up after themselves and compensate those harmed if an operation shuts down because of a toxic manure spill.

Another reintroduced piece of legislation, Senate Bill 0013 has been filed and would create a three-year moratorium on new construction or expansion of CAFOs.

Why you should give a (toxic) shit: It's just wrong. It's bad enough that CAFOs have toxic poo pits that could spill into our waterways and kill our wildlife just to provide the eight ounces of meat an average American consumes daily. It's even worse that taxpayers have to foot the bill when the shit hits the fan.

"For Mr. and Mrs. Taxpayer, I don't think they want to pay up for the environmental cleanup of CAFOs," said Barbara Sha Cox, of Indiana CAFO Watch.

According to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM), there are 625 CAFOs in Indiana, which represent only 20 percent of farms regulated by IDEM, but produce 80 percent of the state's livestock. That means lots of concentrated crap.

Why it will pass this year: Indiana's CAFOs have been in the spotlight recently. Especially the 20-foot tall manure bubbles in Winchester, Ind. that were exposed in the national media, and a disaster in which untreated CAFOrunoff killed 100,000 fish in the Mississinewa River.

Plus, CAFO legislation has a Republican champion. State Sen. Allen Paul (Richmond) has pushed CAFO legislation for years now. Zach Wampler, a spokesman for Sen. Paul said the senator will be filing CAFO financial assurance legislation for the first time this year, due, in part to lobbying efforts by Cox.

"I'm going to be optimistic that something will occur this year," Cox said. "I believe the senators will do what's best for the Indiana taxpayers."

"Legislators need to take an in-depth look at the effects (CAFOs) have on air and water quality," Paul said last month in a statement about the legislation. "Temporarily stopping new construction to gather evidence of such facilities' impacts on Hoosier resources is a good alternative to abruptly developing new rules and regulations for (CAFOs), as they do produce a large number of Indiana farm animals."

Why it won't: While it seems like financial assurance could be an easy sell, the future of a moratorium looks dubious. Sen. Paul has introduced a three-year moratorium every year since 2007. And while CAFOs are getting more and more attention, it hasn't been been enough to pass legislation through the legislature.

And if last year's CAFO disasters couldn't prompt swift and immediate bipartisan action on CAFOs, it's unclear what will.

Dirty is the new clean

What's the bill? Senate Bill 0015 would basically allow "low carbon" and "noncarbon" power plants like nuclear and coal-fired, carbon-capture and sequestration (CCS) facilities to qualify for financial incentives available for clean energy projects. This bill also changes the term "clean coal and energy projects" to "clean energy projects."

Why you should give a damn: It's a lie. Nuclear and "clean" coal have no place in projects pertaining to actual clean energy projects, like wind and solar. While it's true that nuclear power plants don't produce greenhouse-gas emissions, their radioactive waste is anything but clean. Similarly, "clean" coal plants produce fewer emissions than a typical coal-fired power plant, but still pollute our air and water.

Plus, coal has to be mined, which means more pollution. And since Indiana imports about half of its coal from other states, some is coming from West Virginia – where they blow off the tops of mountains to get coal.

These are not clean energy solutions. They're just less-bad energy solutions.

In addition to polluting the environment, legislation like this could pollute other legislation like a renewable electricity standard – legislation that would require the state to generate a certain amount of its electricity from renewable energysources. If nuclear and CCS are considered renewable, a renewable electricity standard bill wouldn't be worth much.

"Not only would that make us be a laughing stock of the entire country, but it would severely harm any efforts our state would pursue with respect to renewable energy," said Kerwin Olson, program director at Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana.

A renewable energy/electricity standard is a concern for Jesse Kharbanda, executive director of Hoosier Environmental Council, as well.

"We're concerned about it promoting fossil fuels and nuclear and misrepresenting to the public that they're passing a renewable electricity standard," Kharbanda said. "They're really passing a standard that's promoting energy resources that are much more expensive than renewables and have some serious environmental challenges to them."

Why it will pass this year: The Republican-controlled Statehouse will pass this if members follow Gov. Daniels, who is in love with coal. Daniels' spokesperson told NUVO in an email: "Coal must be utilized in the newest and cleanest manner possible. Development of coal gasification technology promises to tap into Indiana's coal resources with greater efficiency, less waste products and 90 percent or greater reductions in traditional pollution."

Welcome to the new age of clean pollutants.

Why it won't pass: Don't hold your breath (unless you're trying to avoid the air pollution). The bill previously passed in the Senate and died in the Democratic House. It has a good chance of passing this year.

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