While there was quite a bit of activity in the environmental area in the 2013 Indiana legislative session, there was little heavy lifting and relatively few changes to environmental law. Yes, it is a work in progress, but Indiana business and industry has done so much to reduce its air, land and water emissions that there are fewer and fewer legislative fixes needed. Still, watch for a number of issues to be studied this summer by the Environmental Quality Service Council (EQSC).
Water and wastewater issues are of concern to the Indiana Chamber. Related to that, there were a number of legislative items addressing the wonderful world of water and sewage. The struggle is between those who are not on a sewer system and those who want them to be. There were also several bills to address the overcharging by water and wastewater utilities of those outside the jurisdiction of the municipality. The Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC) was added to the current court system as an avenue to take a grievance.
The energy arena provided much more drama: At the center, the proposed nearly $3 billion Rockport coal gasification facility on the Ohio River in Spencer County, which generated strong non-partisan emotions. Senator Doug Eckerty (R-Yorktown) and Rep. Suzanne Couch (R-Evansville) were the Senate and House champions who stood strong against an emotional plea from those in the Rockport area. The Indiana Chamber is not opposed to the Rockport project and well-recognizes the potential positive economic development with the plant construction, coal mining jobs and related transportation. However, the funding formula for this project is flawed – any losses at the plant would be paid for by the state’s two million residential and small/medium-sized business taxpayers for some 30 years. Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) called the Rockport bill the most complex issue to face the General Assembly this year and, in fact, held the final third reading vote until after the state budget was approved in the House; it was the very last bill for consideration at nearly 1:30 a.m. on Saturday,
April 27. The Indiana Chamber joined forces with the Indiana Manufacturers Association and Indiana Farm Bureau in support of the Rockport bill that, in the end, passed the House by a convincing 70-28 vote and the Senate by a 43-7 margin.
It contains much-needed additional protections to ensure that small/medium-sized businesses and residential ratepayers will not pay excessive additional rates for the natural gas produced by this plant (if it is built).
The major bill for the electric power industry was SB 560. The Indiana Chamber was neutral as the language carried a “tracker” provision which allows an expense to be tracked most directly into a ratepayer’s bill without a rate case. The Indiana Chamber has members on both sides of this issue. Senate Bill 560 allows the expenses related to “transmission and distribution system improvement charges” (TDSIC) to be “tracked” into bills but requires the utility to submit a seven-year plan and present a full rate case to the IURC within that seven years (if it uses the tracking mechanism).
The legislative summer committees will likely see many environmental and energy issues as some of the legislative attempts were punted to the summer study docket and other items discussed will probably show up on the agenda. Senator Ed Charbonneau (R-Valparaiso) will likely chair the EQSC this summer and has clearly stated his interest in addressing a variety of topics. Some of the items that are already identified that may be studied in the EQSC or other legislative summer study committees include: agricultural fugitive dust, consolidation of all water management functions under one agency, single point of contact for Indiana Department of Environmental Management 401 certification and Department of Natural Resources flood control, small modular nuclear reactors, non-jurisdictional water and wastewater rates and charges, and Indiana’s water plan status.