INDIANAPOLIS – Remember the 2016 law that bans a ban on plastic bags in Indiana? Here we go again. This time it’s “you can’t ban natural gas, Fort Wayne” (or any other city). “And, you can’t have an all-electric vehicle fleet, Indiana University.” Or build a new building made from an energy-saving material if it doesn’t save you money.

This is HB1191, which passed out of the House this week and is now headed to the Senate. It’s another example of a desperate fossil fuel industry panicking about the inevitable transition to cheaper renewable energy and the waning of its own ... utility (pun intended). 

HB1191 snatches sovereignty out of local hands and leaves it in the lap of the industry. It’s another egregious example of the industry’s stranglehold on the lawmakers who receive its generous campaign contributions. And it’s another one of those bills that solves a non-existent problem, a preemption bill, in the parlance of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

The bill “provides that the legislative body of a city or town or a county executive does not have the power to prohibit a public utility from furnishing utility service to a utility customer.” A handy insurance policy for protecting natural gas and coal interests.

HB1191 extends its heavy hand into the boardrooms of state universities, too. If this bill becomes law, state universities can’t install, say, a wind farm unless it will pay for itself in 10 years, nor can it mandate certain materials for its buildings, or prohibit or privilege a motor vehicle be based upon the type of energy that powers it, unless the choice would result in “net monetary savings.”

Oh, and by the way, net monetary savings “do not include secondary savings or avoided or mitigated externalities.” Smells like sheer knee-jerk panic in response to President Biden’s climate agenda, and a denial of the common good achieved by lower carbon footprints.

How do universities feel about the bill? “We are aware of the amendment that was added to HB1191 in committee affecting public universities and have been working with the bill author,” said Purdue spokesman Tim Doty in an e-mailed statement. “We understand the aim, which is to make sure that our decisions concerning certain energy related issues are cost effective. Purdue is a good steward of such determinations today and looks forward to working on the bill as it moves through the process.”

The bill’s author is Rep. Jim Pressel (R-LaPorte). When asked by a fellow lawmaker if there had been challenges with state university budgeting or building decisions that led to the writing of this bill, Pressel said he had no complaints about university spending decisions, but, “times do change, things happen, this is just a little safeguard maybe.” Pressel also admitted that no Indiana town has tried to ban natural gas.

Pressel is a former president of the Indiana Builders Association, like at least two of the other lawmakers issuing bills this session that presume nature inconvenient or renewable energy threatening. Pressel also owns a company that builds residential homes. According to the Citizens Action Coalition, Pressel has taken $16,750 in contributions from the energy & natural resources industries. His co-author, Rep. Ed Solliday, took a staggering $113,550, a small price to pay for the gas industry to lock itself in the room and limit home rule, something that used to be so sacred in this state.

Instead, the most sacred value is so-called economic competitiveness. Advocating for HB1191, the Indiana Manufacturers Association argues that limiting and reducing energy options is bad for the economy. Here’s what’s worse for the economy: Turning our backs on clean energy and electric vehicles and green building technologies. Over in Ohio, even Duke Energy is helping municipalities plan the transition to electric vehicles. If Indiana harnessed its formidable manufacturing power for good, we could be a leader in green manufacturing. 

Could. 

Until Indiana voters elect lawmakers with independent spirits and forward-thinking imaginations, we’ll be stuck in the 19th Century while the building and fossil fuel industries prop up and buy off lawmakers with the legislative version of insider trading.

The overriding hostility toward action on climate or preservation of natural resources that’s oozing from the Statehouse this session is stomach-turning. But the vitriol is in proportion to the perceived threat. 

Consumers, corporations, the federal government and the climate itself are marching forward while the majority of Indiana lawmakers cling to a polluted yesteryear, with dictatorial cowardice. 

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.