Sen. Susan Glick
Sen. Susan Glick
INDIANAPOLIS – On Feb. 1, the Senate Natural Resources Committee will hear SB 373, arguably the most meaningful, proactive environmental policy to emerge from the Indiana General Assembly in years. Yes, you read that right.

Tim Maloney of the Hoosier Environmental Council described the magic bill this way: “It’s based on the idea that Indiana businesses – who are interested in reducing their carbon footprint and in the market to buy carbon offsets – should be able to buy these offsets in Indiana, offsets that are generated by Indiana farmers and woodland owners, and by state-run forest conservation projects. If enacted, the bill will leverage new private investment for land, water and wildlife conservation in Indiana and reward farmers and woodland owners for stewardship practices that sequester carbon.” 

That’s right, folks. Indiana’s ready to jumpstart a carbon market, incentivize sustainable agriculture and forestry, and implicitly acknowledge the climate crisis! Predictably, and in true Hoosier fashion, the bill contains no mandates, only a set of dangling financial carrots. Also in true Hoosier fashion, it’s low-risk, and not a new idea. 

No matter. SB 373 is an elegant triple win: For state government coffers, for the pocketbooks of forest and farm owners, and for Indiana’s corner of Planet Earth. “What’s most exciting is to see the strong bipartisan support for it led by Sen. Sue Glick (R-LaGrange), which means it actually has a good chance of being enacted,” said Jeff Stant of the Indiana Forest Alliance.

The bill’s origin story is interesting. Before his retirement last spring, Sen. Mark Stoops (D-Bloomington) proposed a study of carbon sequestration opportunities and carbon markets in Indiana. A working group of environmental and economic partners formed. As Stoops transitioned out, the group worked with Sen. Glick to craft SB 373, a bill that’s as green as a May hike in the Hoosier National Forest.

Greening Hoosier farming and forestry means planting trees, avoiding lots of logging, controlling fertilizer runoff, restoring wetlands (ironic in light of SB 389), or committing to other sanctioned practices that reduce carbon emissions. These actions generate carbon credits – and cash. The state can get into the moneymaking act, too. The bill expands the roles of the existing Benjamin Harrison Conservation Trust and Clean Water Indiana fund to include carbon credit banks.

Who wants to buy carbon credits? Big corporations feeling green pressure from stockholders. Take FedEx, for example. To voluntarily lower its carbon footprint at its Indiana facilities, FedEx wants to pay Indiana farmers to pull carbon out of the air. All they need is a mechanism to invest in local carbon-farming projects. Enter SB 373.

Advocates from all corners are lining up to adore the bill. Vincennes-area farmer Ray McCormick, who already practices the symbiotic, common sense methods of regenerative agriculture, spoke in favor of the carbon credit program at a committee hearing last fall. 

So did Rae Schnapp of the Indiana Forest Alliance, who testified how the bill would “help private woodland owners and farmers who own 85% of the state’s forests conserve and expand their forests and restore soil health while giving the state a means for acquiring more greatly needed public forest land at the same time.”

Even the Ruffed Grouse Society weighed in, noting that carbon farming is “well aligned with the practices necessary to also sustain overall healthy forests and habitat upon which many wildlife species and Hoosier sportsmen and sportswomen depend.” 

Conveniently, SB 373 dovetails with U.S. Sen. Mike Braun’s Growing Climate Solutions Act, proposed last spring. That act would authorize the U.S. secretary of agriculture to provide technical assistance and a verification process to farmers, ranchers, and private forest landowners ready to play the carbon credit market.

Daniel Poynter, founder of Carbon Neutral Indiana, said it best about SB 373: “Everybody wins. Companies reduce their carbon footprint, new money flows into Indiana, farmers get paid, our soil gets richer.” And Indiana gets more forested. Poynter also noted research showing that 20% of Hoosier households are willing to pay $40 a month to “clean up their carbon trash.” If even just 5% of the 20% participated, that represents $12 million worth demand for carbon-sucking projects.

All told, SB 373 is the political permission Indiana’s industrial farmers need to act on climate. And it offers one answer to the eternal question, when will conservatives conserve nature? When they stand to profit from conservation. 

A consultant and grant writer, Laker is principal of Laker Verbal LLC. She is the former director of communications at Indiana Forest Alliance and hosts a movie review show, Flick Fix, on WQRT 99.1 FM.