INDIANAPOLIS  – I kid you not. On April Fool’s Day, a pair of Janus-faced bills are set to be heard in Sen. Eric Koch’s Senate Utilities Committee, HB1381 and HB1191. HB1381 creates uniform rules for the siting of solar and wind projects. HB1191 prevents municipalities from mandating green building materials or electric vehicles, and from banning any certain sort of energy a utility might provide.

While HB1381 forces a path for renewables, and HB1191 defends the turf of traditional utilities and building materials, both bills break Indiana’s formerly biblical devotion to home rule.

The bills also represent a bipolar take on Indiana’s energy future. Are we going green or clinging to dirty? Can lawmakers contort themselves to cater to competing industries, from the wind energy lobby to the natural gas lobby? Do counties and towns ever know what’s good for them?

Fact is, one-third of Indiana counties currently have some form of legislation on the books against renewable energy projects. And two-thirds of them have passed indignant resolutions against HB1381. Some claim the fact that the bill’s subject is renewable energy is incidental; it’s all about the principle of local control. 

But what do counties do with their local control? Some court coal-to-diesel plants, chemical fertilizer plants, and factory farms with energetic abandon. Some welcome corporations who want to inject chemicals a mile underground. But solar and wind must be slain like dragons?

While Rep. Ed Soliday sees dollar signs with big time renewable energy projects, and county leaders see eyesores, it seems like no one’s asking what’s best for the health of Hoosiers and the air we breathe. By that criterion, everyone should be running toward wind turbines and solar panels like there’s no tomorrow.

While some local leaders have already effectively banned renewable energy production by throwing up roadblocks to siting and zoning, HB1191 takes green-infrastructure hostility to the next level. Authored by Rep. Jim Pressel (R-LaPorte), the bill is chock full of poison pills. No county government will be allowed to ban production of any type of energy, such as natural gas. The Hoosier Environmental Council is urging an amendment that restores local governments’ right to ban utility-owned energy projects viewed as public health risks, such as waste-to-energy facilities; it’s nice to imagine that any local governments might think in those terms.

A second poison pill is the banning of green building materials, a prospect that’s infuriating the architect community. Think about that for a minute. Scientists the world over have agreed that we need to reduce emissions and increase energy efficiency. And lawmakers in this state are making it illegal. Why not ban life preservers and infant car seats too?

Just reading the bill is like drinking castor oil. HB1191 bans state educational institutions and local units of government from 1) requiring that a building be built or retrofitted with energy-saving or energy-producing materials or designs; 2) prohibiting materials or designs that don’t meet an energy-saving standard. 

This pathetic panic is being induced by, of all things, the rest of the world’s logical march toward self-preservation. “Given the urgency of the climate crisis, and the reality that gas infrastructure built today will continue to emit greenhouse gasses for years to come,” explains Amulya Yerrapotu of the Natural Resources Defense Council, “it is imperative that we begin the process of decarbonizing our buildings now.” 

And with that, the gas industry’s hair is officially on fire. As their brains dissolve in the blink of a campaign contribution, Indiana lawmakers crank out embarrassing bills like HB1191. While our Midwest neighbors are passing the Clean Energy Jobs Act (Illinois), committing to reducing utility carbon emissions (Minnesota), and growing utility-scale solar capacity (Ohio), Indiana is telling architects they have to be as inefficient as possible. 

I wish this were an April Fool’s joke. 

SB373 Carbon Market bill update

On Tuesday, Rep. Sean Eberhart orchestrated a messy hearing of SB373 in the House Natural Resources Committee. The bill was amended to the point that it won’t create carbon markets in the near term, just a committee to study the issue by July 2022. 

The bill was further amended, courtesy of Rep. Alan Morrison, to shield Wabash Valley Resources from liability for its underground carbon injection project in West Terre Haute.

“It’s unfortunate that this controversial amendment was added to SB373, which seeks to promote carbon markets and encourage carbon sequestration in trees and soil,” said Tim Maloney of the Hoosier Environmental Council, which opposed that amendment. As did the Dept. of Natural Resources.

Was it coincidental that the contents of the amendments were not public until the hearing was underway? And that the committee voted on the Wabash Valley amendment before all opposing testimony was heard?

The bill will be ready for House floor action by Monday. 

A consultant and grant writer, Laker is principal of Laker Verbal LLC.