Indiana can’t afford to ignore its environment

By Editorial
Indiana Star; March 3, 2008

It is Indiana’s forgotten issue.
State leaders in recent years have rightly dedicated time, money and energy on Indiana’s twin needs: rebuilding the economy and revamping the education system.
But a third "E” — the environment — has been overlooked.
That’s a mistake in a state with one of the worst environmental records in the nation.
How bad is it? Even Forbes, a business publication not known for leaning to the political left, last fall ranked Indiana 49th in the nation among environmentally friendly states. Only West Virginia scored worse. Forbes based its comparisons on air and water quality, waste management, energy consumption and public policy.
Here’s how the magazine described states on the low end of its report card: "So who’s at the bottom? Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Indiana and, at No. 50, West Virginia. All suffer from a mix of toxic waste, lots of pollution and consumption and no clear plans to do anything about it. Expect them to stay that way.”
But Hoosiers will pay a hefty price if Indiana stays that way.
Consider first the health effects. The American Lung Association last year ranked Indianapolis as one of the nation’s 10 worst cities for airborne particle pollution. A 2006 study by the Environmental Integrity Project found Indiana to have the most power plants (five) on a list of the nation’s 50 dirtiest. Research has linked particle pollution with increased risk of asthma, respiratory irritations, irregular heartbeat, heart attacks and premature death.
Indiana‘s water isn’t pristine either. Dozen of communities, including the capital city, routinely dump raw sewage into rivers and creeks after heavy rains because of their reliance on antiquated sewers.
Fish advisories — as in, don’t eat what you catch — are common around the state because of high levels of mercury and other contaminants.
And the U.S. Geological Survey, in a study released in February, found that Indiana is one of the worst sources of nitrogen and phosphorus from farm runoff, contributing to a "dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico.
All of this begs for a vibrant public debate about how Indiana can improve its environmental stewardship. But so far the discussion has been muted, even with the General Assembly in session and an election year unfolding.
With due respect to the residents of Alabama and West Virginia, is that the company Hoosiers want to be associated with in trying to attract and retain educated workers and high-tech companies?
Business, academic and political leaders have argued persuasively that Indiana, for the sake of its economic future, must move beyond an old-style culture that downplayed education and championed traditional manufacturing. The same argument applies to stewardship of the environment. A state that wants to compete for the brightest workers and best companies can’t afford an image as a wanton polluter.
It’s time for Indiana to shed its old brown duds for the greener shades in its wardrobe.