INDIANAPOLIS  – Carbon. Indiana excels at emitting it, even though the world needs no more of it – and by 2050, way, way, way less of it. Fifty Indiana economists agreed, in a recent letter sent to Indiana’s congressional delegation. Fact is, Indiana is one of 10 states that produce half of all U.S. emissions. 

So we have a lot of carbon to suck up. There are many ways to do so. Plant more trees. Preserve more forests. Farm low- or no-till; plant cover crops. SB373, which was scheduled to be heard this week in Rep. Sean Eberhart’s (R-Columbus) House Natural Resources Committee, would create financial incentives for carbon-absorbing projects. In a past column, I called SB373 the most meaningful environmental bill in years.

If it becomes law, willing landowners, farmers and forest owners will get paid to keep carbon in the ground. The DNR and the Dept. of Agriculture will set up a verification process. The well-loved but heretofore underfunded Benjamin Harrison Conservation Trust and Clean Water Indiana program will be expanded to include carbon credit banks so the state profits, too.

This bill is remarkable because of how little serious opposition it’s faced. The agriculture sector is a little jittery, but not too much. The timber industry lobby doesn’t oppose it. The environmental community is bullish on it. 

Turns out the bill’s albatross this week may have been a pop-up amendment related to an unnatural kind of carbon capture, geological injection. A company called Wabash Valley Resources LLC has been prepping to build, in West Terre Haute, an ammonia plant. The plant will supposedly have little carbon footprint because extra carbon and other gases will get injected a mile underground. 

In 2019, Wabash Valley Resources persuaded lawmakers to pass a law allowing the right to inject CO2 into land regardless of an adjacent landowners’ lack of consent. This week, an amendment was proposed to SB 373 to give injection projects blanket civil immunity for the carbon storage aspect of the project [insert raised eyebrows here].

But Sen. Eberhart did not say that the injection amendment was the reason he pulled the bill this week. He told me: “[The bill] is not in the shape it needs to be to pass committee.The carbon market concept it creates is not acceptable at this point in time to me or a majority of committee members. We’re working on an amendment to make it more palatable, and we’ll hear it next week [March 30].” Inquiring minds will have to wait.

Meanwhile, a law incentivizing carbon offset projects in Indiana really can’t come too soon for Daniel Poynter. His organization, Carbon Neutral Indiana [CNI], is working to make carbon neutrality a social norm. Although some people still do so, today it’s not socially acceptable to throw garbage out your window. Very soon, it’ll be the same with carbon emissions. 

CNI is a non-profit enterprise that provides a free carbon inventory to any household or business that wants one. Those motivated to pay to offset their emissions pool their money and CNI helps select a project to invest in. So far, the collective investment has been in a gorgeous forest project on an island off the coast of Alaska because there are no verified carbon-sucking forest projects in Indiana. Yet.

A year after Poynter founded it, CNI has 150 members and about $40,000 to invest annually in carbon offset projects. And he’s in dialogue with several Indiana businesses about going carbon neutral. “Companies are rushing to proclaim their net-zero emissions,” says Poynter. “That’s a signal to the people who finance projects. There’s going to be an enormous demand for projects that sequester carbon.” Is Indiana ready?

“In a carbon-constrained world,” Poynter continues, “sophisticated investors are shifting money to companies that have a low carbon liability, and those who disclose their impacts. Publicly-traded companies are going to have to disclose their climate risks. For example, if you own real estate and it will get flooded, investors will need to know that. And the SEC is backing that idea.”

Poynter has served on the advisory group that has helped shore up support for SB 373. “Indiana’s all about manufacturing, agriculture and transportation,” he said. “All three have huge carbon liabilities. If we don’t do something, it will drag Indiana way down.”

“There’s nothing controversial about the concept of carbon credit programs,” adds Tim Maloney of the Hoosier Environmental Council. “This bill has bipartisan support. It’s voluntary, not regulatory, and benefits farmers and woodland owners who want to take part.”

But questions loom. What mysterious new amendment will Rep. Eberhart propose for SB373? 

Will Indiana choose to sequester carbon with risky technologies [seismic injectors]...or proven technologies [trees]? Will Indiana lawmakers take the carbon revenue just sitting on the table?  

A consultant and grant writer, Laker is principal of Laker Verbal LLC. Disclosure: she is a  volunteer for Carbon Neutral Indiana.