INDIANAPOLIS | The state's environmental regulator told lawmakers Wednesday he fears new, impossible-to-meet federal pollution standards will overshadow the progress Indiana has made in improving air and water quality.
Thomas Easterly, commissioner of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, said the pending federal regulations will all-but ban coal-fired power plants, which currently produce more than 80 percent of the state's electricity.
But even if every power plant, business and home switched immediately to natural gas, Indiana would fall short of the expected standards, Easterly said.
State Sen. Jim Buck, R-Kokomo, a member of the Legislature's Environmental Quality Service Council, argued the regulatory impact goes beyond meeting pollution standards.
He said cheap electricity has long made Indiana a center for manufacturing, and the state risks losing key industries if that advantage goes away.
However, state Sen. Jean Breaux, D-Indianapolis, pointed out excess pollution harms Hoosiers' health, which is harder to see than a factory closing but likely costs more in the long run.
Easterly said Indiana has significantly improved its air and water quality during the past decade, with nearly the entire state now in compliance with the previous ratcheting down of federal pollution limits.
"The air is getting cleaner," Easterly said. "We are making great progress."
He said LaPorte County still does not meet air quality standards -- because of Chicago pollution blowing across Lake Michigan -- but is near the allowable maximum.
Gary is the only remaining locality without a plan to prevent the discharge of untreated sewage, but Easterly said he expects such a plan next year.