David Hoppe

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Indiana Denial of Environmental Management

by David Hoppe

He’s done it again.

Tom Easterly, head of Indiana’s Department of Environmental Management (IDEM), is determined to keep Indiana in the 20th century — or maybe even the Ice Age.

Easterly was in Washington recently, where he told a Senate committee that, if push comes to shove, Indiana might refuse to comply with a rule being proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reduce carbon emissions generated by coal burning power plants.

The EPA thinks Indiana should reduce the amount of carbon Dioxide generated per unit of electricity 20 percent by the year 2030.

When it comes to coal, Indiana is like a three-pack a day smoker — think of those sharp-dressed guys you see on Mad Men, the show about advertising in the go-go ‘60s. We’re hooked on the stuff, using it for more than 80 percent of our energy.

It’s not as if we haven’t been warned about the dangers. Burning coal is known to release mercury, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and particulate matter into the air. The use of coal is linked to higher rates of respiratory illnesses, like bronchitis and asthma. It increases the chances of heart attacks and strokes.

Our heavy reliance on coal is a big reason why Indiana’s air quality continues to be a concern. Although Easterly likes to tell people that air quality here is better than it was, it’s still nothing to brag about. According to the American Lung Association, Indianapolis ranked as the 20th most polluted city in the nation in 2014 for year round particle pollution. Soot levels actually increased in the city from where they were in 2013.

Easterly has served two governors, Mitch Daniels, and now Mike Pence. Like them, his argument against the EPA has less to do with the quality of our environment than it does with protecting the state’s traditional business interests. Adopting the EPA guidelines, he says, will make energy more expensive and hurt manufacturing. It could also make life tougher for consumers, especially those with low and fixed incomes.

But these arguments only show how vulnerable Indiana’s dependence on this dirty, outmoded form of energy has made us. Instead of advocating for new forms of energy, which, by the way, would create opportunities for new businesses and jobs, Easterly insists on propping up old King Coal.

Easterly, remember, made a presentation at a 2012 ALEC conference, underwritten by Peabody Coal, where he offered suggestions about how to obstruct and delay EPA rules regarding greenhouse gas emissions at coal-fired power plants.

Those emissions, of course, contribute to our increasingly volatile weather. At his recent Washington session, Easterly was asked if he has tried to figure what Indiana’s coal habit might end up costing the state in terms of climate change.

He denied the question’s premise. “I don’t think you can quantify any cost of future climate change on the state of Indiana,” Easterly was quoted as saying. “There’s nothing concrete to quantify. There’s speculation…Indiana used to be under a sheet of ice.”

Those were the days.