Sierra Club — “Controversial coal bill passes off the House floor, heads to Indiana Senate”

Sarah Bowman, Indianapolis Star, February 3, 2020

The controversial Indiana bill that could delay closing coal plants and raise rates for customers is still alive and on its way to the Senate.

In a relatively close vote, House Bill 1414 passed out of the House, 52 to 41. In fact, the vote was tight enough that House Speaker Rep. Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, cast a “yes” vote — the speaker does not normally vote unless it will make a difference in the outcome. 

He has previously claimed that the bill — which raises the bar for utilities wanting to close power plants, at a time when coal-fired plants are the only ones closing — is not a bailout for the coal industry. The bill’s author, Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, has echoed that statement.

Supporters of the bill, whose provisions are currently set to expire in May 2021, have defended it in part as a stopgap measure to help Indiana as it pivots to cleaner energy sources.

Ed Soliday (R)

The goal of the bill, Soliday said during his comments on the floor, is that “whether it’s coal or rabbits on a treadmill” that provide Hoosiers’ electricity, the state “is in a transition, and all we’re asking is to be able to manage it.”

In the Senate, the bill will likely be assigned to the Utilities Committee, chaired by Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis. Merritt said recently that he is aware of the bill, but could not speak to specifics. He added that he is very open-minded about it and knows there are a lot of entities against it.

Those entities include Indiana’s five investor-owned utilities, through the Indiana Energy Association; the Indiana Chamber of Commerce; the Indiana Industrial Energy Consumers group; the Indiana Conservative Alliance for Energy; the National Taxpayers Union; the Indiana State Conference of the NAACP; trade associations such as Advanced Energy Economy; consumer advocacy group Citizens Action Coalition; and environmental organizations the Hoosier Environmental Council and Sierra Club. 

The only group that spoke in favor of this bill during hearings of the House utilities committee, chaired by Soliday, was the Indiana Coal Council. 

Still, Merritt said he does not yet have a position on the legislation, but added that “the bill in its current shape will not be how it leaves the Senate.” 

The bill, after several amendments last week, would no longer require the state’s regulatory commission to approval the closure of a coal plant, Soliday said Monday. It does, however, still create a process that requires the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission to hold a hearing on a proposed closure and issue a report with its findings and conclusions.

That’s because Indiana needs to be more thoughtful about the implications of closing its coal-fired power plants, Soliday said.

Matt Pierce (D)

Many raise concerns about the ambiguity of the process. They also claim — as Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, did during his comments in opposition of the bill Monday — that there already is a process with heavy federal and regional oversight that ensures Indiana’s electricity will be reliable and that utilities are transitioning responsibly. 

This legislation is not needed, said Pierce. 

It also would raise rates for Hoosiers by allowing utilities to purchase more coal and pass that cost on to customers, according to Rep. Ryan Hatfield, D-Evansville. 

“Not a single person” in the electricity industry has raised concerns about being able to provide reliable power, Hatfield said during his comments on the floor. “So who does this benefit, from having more coal procurement?” 

Rep. Alan Morrison said that this bill was not a coal bailout — the Republican said Monday he wished he could tell his district near Terre Haute it was, “that would make me a hero.”

He contended the bill is largely a jobs bill, after he offered a successful amendment last week that would provide additional resources for coal workers that have lost and are losing jobs during the energy transition. 

“You can go home and tell your constituents you voted for a workers bill,” Morrison said. 

Morrison and fellow House Republicans Matt Hostettler and Ethan Manning have signed on as co-authors to Soliday’s legislation.

It will now head to the Senate, where Republicans Mark Messmer, Eric Koch, Erin Houchin, and Chris Garten are sponsors.

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