A coalition of Indiana environmental groups released findings of a study this week that examined the relationship between Gov. Mitch Daniels and the coal industry.

Looking at campaign finance records available through the Indiana Election Division through the election of November 2008, the groups found what they describe as " previously undisclosed largesse of the coal industry and related utilities" in relation to Daniels' campaign coffers.

"At a time when many other states are moving away from coal for economic, environmental and health reasons," says David Maidenberg, director, Sierra Club Hoosier Chapter, "this administration serves as its cheerleader. While these campaign contributions are presumably legal, the study raises questions about whether the governor's independence of judgment and ability to provide Hoosiers with objective regulation of utilities may be impaired by these campaign gifts."

The gifts to Daniels were made between January 2005 and November 2008 according to the public records examined by the Sierra Club Hoosier Chapter, Valley Watch, Common Cause and Citizens Action Coalition. The funds, which came from corporate coffers, company affiliated political action committees and individual company owners, executives and lobbyists, represent 28 different industry interests, all of which are either members of the Indiana Coal Council - coal's chief lobbying arm in the state - or own coal mines in Indiana, or both.

According to the study, Daniels' biggest coal-connected donors are the utilities NiSource ($100,250) and Duke Energy ($83,337). NiSource (better known locally as Northern Indiana Public Service Co. or "NIPSCO") and Duke Energy are both members of the Indiana Coal Council, and both rely on coal-fired power plants for much of the power they sell in the state.

Of primary concern to the environmental groups is the fact that Duke is currently petitioning Indiana regulators for approvals in connection with a controversial new coal-fired power plant it plans to build at Edwardsport at the same time that the company has "by far, the largest source of coal connected contributors to Daniels," with gifts from almost 30 Duke executives among its $83,337 total.

The report goes on to detail that donors associated with a dozen coal companies that operate coal mines and/or own coal reserves in Indiana contributed a total of $107,375 to Daniels. This total includes: $10,000 from a top lobbyist for the world's largest coal company, Peabody Investments, plus $18,450 more from that firm and its Indiana subsidiary; as well as $34,250 from Evansville utility and energy firm Vectren, which mines its own coal and plans to open two new mines in the state.

John Blair, Valley Watch president, said, "Indiana is one of the most polluted states in the nation and that is largely due to the many old and dirty coal plants that operate here. It is no wonder Governor Daniels is reluctant to answer our records request since it is clear he resides in the back pocket of the industry that causes much of the ill health in Southern Indiana."

E-cycling gets a boost

House Bill 1589, authored by state Rep. Mary Ann Sullivan (D-Indianapolis), passed the Indiana House Environmental Affairs Committee last week and now moves on to the full House of Representatives for vote.

The legislation would prohibit the disposal of a variety of electronic items in Indiana landfills by 2011 and requires the state to partner with TV and computer screen manufacturers to provide a means for consumers to recycle their e-scrap.

"This would reduce the state's impact on the environment and ensure that hazardous material - including the two to eight pounds of lead found in most TVs and computer screens - aren't admitted into our landfills," Sullivan said in support of the bill. She also noted that with support of TV and computer manufacturers, recycling programs could be established at no cost to taxpayers.

While Sullivan and other lawmakers work to require a more comprehensive state e-scrap plan, residents of Indianapolis came out in record numbers to dispose of their post-holiday waste last month at designated drop-off locations throughout the city.

According to the Office of Sustainability, more than 143,000 pounds of electronics were recycled as part of the effort that pairs SustainIndy with Workforce, Inc., the city's ex-offender re-entry initiative that hires ex-offenders to collect and process electronics for recycling.

"The overwhelmingly positive response to this year's post-holiday recycling event demonstrates that citizens are looking for ways to help make Indianapolis a more sustainable, livable city," Mayor Greg Ballard said.

In addition to electronics, more than 16,000 Christmas trees were collected and processed by Indy Parks as part of the January recycling campaign. The trees will be recycled to generate mulch for city parks, trails and playgrounds.

Don't trash it

High school students participating in the Indiana Recycling Coalition's "Don't Trash Your TV! Recycle It" video contest were honored at the Statehouse last week.

Participants competed for cash prizes by creating the best video to help educate Hoosiers on how to make the shift to digital television in an environmentally friendly way.

"This is a particularly timely contest not only because of the impending digital transition, but also due to the passage earlier this week of H.B. 1589 - Electronics Recycling -- out of the House Environmental Affairs committee. Representative Mary Ann Sullivan authors this legislation, which would vastly improve Hoosiers' access to electronics recycling programs throughout the state," said Carey Hamilton, executive director, Indiana Recycling Coalition.

Four students from MacKenzie Career Center in Indianapolis took home first place, as well as $600 in prize money. The contest, which began Nov. 15, as part of America Recycles Day, and ended Jan. 15, 2009, was open to any Indiana student in grades 9 through 12 and age 13 and older. Entrants and their corresponding schools had the opportunity to receive cash prizes while helping to further the goals of America Recycles Day Indiana, a partnership between the Indiana Recycling Coalition, Indiana Department of Education, Indiana Department of Environmental Management and Comcast, that hosted the contest.

View the top videos at the Indiana Recycling Coalition Web site, www.indianarecycling.org.

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