An environmental group in Indiana is concerned about pending legislation and executive orders it says could reduce the state’s ability to protect the environment and public health.

Jesse Kharbanda is the executive director of the Hoosier Environmental Council.

“While Indiana’s environment has improved over the years, we still rank fourth in the country in mercury pollution, first in the country in toxic water pollution and second in the country in particulate pollution,” he said. “So what we don’t want to happen in our state is for policymakers to have their hands tied in terms of trying to address significant environmental challenges.”

He says his group is worried about two bills in particular. One would prohibit the state government from adopting safeguards to the environment that are more stringent than federal law. Kharbanda says if that legislation passes, it would restrict the state’s ability to solve some of its environmental problems.

“If this statute were enacted a few years ago, it would have barred the state from adopting greatly-needed regulations to protect the public health from the noxious odors and animal manure caused by these factory farms,” he said.

The other bill would allow the agribusiness community to adopt its own regulations, and bar cities and towns from passing ordinances to regulate the industry.

There’s also the matter of an executive order Governor Mike Pence signed two weeks ago. It places a moratorium on any new rules or regulations, in an effort to promote economic development. It’s not clear whether that also applies to the environment and public health, but there are exemptions for emergency health or safety rules. Kharbanda says he’s scheduled to meet with a Pence representative today to voice his concerns.

The group is also advocating for a measure to make the state’s voluntary renewable energy portfolio mandatory, and one to raise awareness about blue green algae in the state’s lakes and reservoirs.

Erica Peterson reports on energy and the environment for WFPL. She is also Enterprise Editor.