Indiana clean energy advocates ‘concerned’ about policy plans

Experts are concerned that the Indiana Republican Party embraced coal in its latest party platform

By: - July 8, 2022 7:00 am

Wind turbines. (Getty Images)

Advocates for clean energy and the environment said they had hoped to see more concrete policy plans in Indiana’s latest Republican and Democratic party platforms that were released at respective state conventions last month.

They also expressed concerns about the state’s perpetual dependence on coal, an energy source which the Indiana Republican Party embraced and committed to grow the industry.

While Democrats highlighted a need for more renewables and transitioning the state toward cleaner energy alternatives, their platform also promoted “an all-of-the-above energy strategy” to decrease the state’s dependence on foreign oil.

Indiana Republicans used similar language, saying they support a broad “all of the above” energy portfolio. Efficient energy solutions should additionally come from free markets, “not government mandates,” according to the party’s platform.

Kerwin Olson, executive director of consumer advocacy group Citizens Action Coalition, said while the “all of the above” language has been around for at least a decade — and is probably a “valuable tool” for fundraising — it’s “not good policy.”

We are all well aware that coal is on the way out.

– Kerwin Olson, of Citizens Action Coalition

“Saying ‘all of the above’ really is a placeholder for the status quo. In our view, it’s code for gas and coal, especially in the context of Indiana,” Olson said. “Policy is having a sort of a direction to go. ‘All of the above’ is a bridge to nowhere.”

Indiana Republican Party Spokesman Luke Thomas said the platform language “speaks well for itself.” He maintained that the “all of the above” approach includes traditional energy, alternative fuels and energy, and next-generation energy.

“This approach stands in stark contrast to that of President Biden and Congressional Democrats whose extreme energy policies are not only crippling American energy but hurting Hoosiers’ pocketbooks,” Thomas said in a statement to Indiana Capital Chronicle.

Democrat approach

Drew Anderson, spokesman for the Indiana Democratic Party, said lawmakers in the state’s minority caucus “are doing what we can” to advance simple measures that will help Hoosiers be “proactive with protecting the environment.” That includes proposals to make solar panels more accessible, as well as increased funding for electric vehicle expansion.

Getting energy-efficiency initiatives to move in Indiana is a challenge, though, Anderson said, emphasizing that the Republican supermajority in the state legislature “is going to say no to policies that will help protect our environment.”

“We have a government where only one side — the Democrats — acknowledge that climate change exists. We are in a climate crisis right now, and we’re trying to do something about it,” Anderson said. “But Republicans are just going to ram their extremist agenda through without any sort of repercussions unless there’s public backlash.”

The Republican Party made no specific references to renewable energy in the 2022 platform. But in one graph on energy independence the platform mentions coal five times. 

Although the Indiana GOP signaled support for “alternative fuels and energy” produced in “America and the Midwest,” Republicans said firmly that “Indiana can and should be a leader in coal production.”

The language has been a part of the state GOP’s platform since 2014.

Moving from coal

Olson said the coal-forward language “doesn’t make sense,” adding he was “concerned” that no specific references were made to efficiency, solar, wind energy, or otherwise.

“We are all well aware that coal is on the way out,” Olson said. “Coal plants are retiring like nobody’s business. They’re expensive, and they’re dirty, and Wall Street and the utilities themselves are moving away from coal.”

Tim Maloney, senior policy director with the Hoosier Environmental Council, added that any policies that seek to maintain coal “are greatly misguided.”

“If our elected officials want to talk about affordable, reliable energy, they should be talking about and putting in place policies that promote renewables. That’s the direction the markets are going,” he said. “Just because Indiana has a lot of coal in the ground does not mean that we should continue, in any way, to favor more use.”

Coal has a “tremendous impact” on Indiana’s environment, Maloney continued. Even if coal can be burned more cleanly, the waste that’s leftover from mining — coal ash — is toxic to humans and the surrounding ecosystem. He noted that Indiana already suffers from statewide groundwater contamination because of the dozens of coal ash ponds that sit near major waterways.

Thomas, the GOP spokesperson, did not comment on the party’s stance on coal.

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Olson said he hopes to see Democratic lawmakers introduce more legislation promoting energy efficiency in the 2023 legislative session, but acknowledged that even getting bills heard — or language amended into separate measures — can be “very complicated.” 

Maloney noted that despite the GOP platform, there’s “growing interest” among Republican state legislators to enact “energy freedom” policies that allow Hosiers to choose their own energy efficient solutions like distributed generation and rooftop solar.

He pointed to Republican Sen. Liz Brown of Fort Wayne, who proposed language to preserve net-metering. Earlier this year, Republican Rep. Mike Speedy of Indianapolis additionally pushed to ensure that Hoosiers belonging to a homeowners association are protected from any restrictions on solar installation.

“There’s a lot of sentiment out there among Hoosiers and in the private sector to do more to push us towards renewables and efficiency and away from fossil fuels,” Maloney said. “It’s a good idea on many levels, and it’s gaining more support, notwithstanding what a party platform might say.”

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Casey Smith
Casey Smith

A lifelong Hoosier, Casey Smith previously reported on the Indiana Legislature for The Associated Press. Internationally, she has reported on water quality across South America. She holds a master’s degree in investigative reporting and narrative science writing from the University of California/Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism. She previously earned degrees in journalism, anthropology and Spanish from Ball State University, where she now serves as an instructor of journalism.

Indiana Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.