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EDITORIAL

Tying the hands of regulators of the environment

Friday, January 31, 2014 - 12:01 am

Indiana rules couldn't be tougher than the federal ones.

The Indiana House has approved and sent to the Senate a most troublesome bill. Alas, the Senate seems likely to approve it, too, so a veto by Republican Gov. Mike Pence might be the only thing to save the state from a very poor piece of public policy. The veto option was taken by Michigan Republican Gov. Rick Snyder when similar legislation hit his desk.

The bill would bar Indiana environmental regulators “from adopting a rule or standard that is more stringent than” corresponding federal rules or standards. State Rep. David Wolkins, R-Winona Lake, sponsor of the measure, says it is aimed at curtailing future actions that could be costly to Indiana’s industries. “Political appointees come and go. And if we get somebody who is a very rabid environmentalist, the fact is, they just don’t pay any attention to the cost of things,” he said.

But Republican Beverly Gard, former longtime chair of the Senate Environmental Affairs Committee and now head of Indiana’s Environmental Rules Board correctly notes that the measure would bind the hands of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and wouldn’t allow Indiana the flexibility to meet its environmental and public health needs. “The current statue seems to me to be working, and Indiana hasn’t had a history of really going overboard on environmental rule-making as far as rules more stringent than federal standards.”

It is a well-established government practice to forbid smaller units of government from co-opting larger ones but to permit them to be even tougher. Because Indiana has a law limiting public smoking, for example, Fort Wayne can’t pass an ordinance expanding it. But it can have more stringent anti-smoking rules than the state, which is why the state law has an exemption for private clubs, while the city ordinance does not.

Legislators seem to have forgotten that practice.

There is something else they’ve forgotten, too: The closer a unit of government is to people, the more local knowledge it has to come up with the best solutions for local problems. Indianapolis knows more about the problems of Hoosiers than Washington does. Fort Wayne knows more about Summit City problems than Indianapolis does. Who knows what environmental problems Indiana regulators might encounter in the future not covered by existing federal rules? Why in the world tie their hands?

The beauty of federalism is that it allows each unit of government to take care of its own affairs and encourages all of them to stay out of each other’s business. Indiana legislators should study up on the concept.