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Coal Industry Bill Advances Over Objections of House Democrats



By Emily Ketterer

February 2, 2020 - A bill that would pause the phasing out of Indiana’s coal industry advanced in the House Thursday, but without amendments that addressed campaign contributions and whale oil.

House Bill 1414 was authored by Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, and would allow the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission to be able to block an electric utility from shutting down a power plant if the company can’t show it was either required by a federal mandate or is otherwise necessary. Under the legislation, these regulations would end in 2021.

Coal plants in Indiana are in the process of shutting down in favor of switching to natural and renewable resources, which are less expensive. The bill united environmentalists, the utility industry and the Indiana Chamber of Commerce in opposing it in committee.

Soliday passed an amendment to the bill Thursday that would also require the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission to hold a hearing in order to determine if a utility plant’s decision to close is reasonable.

In his remarks, Soliday said the purpose of the bill is to be temporary in order to provide more time for a state task force created by the legislature to complete studies of the state’s energy industry and recommend proposals for the 2021 legislative session.

The legislation faced opposition from Democrats in the House, who said the bill tries to turn back the clock on the technological advancements that have been made in renewable resources.

Rep. Ryan Dvorak, D-South Bend, offered an amendment that aimed at showing the absurdity of protecting an industry that was falling to new technology. His amendment required that whale oil be brought back to “serve the purpose of lighting Hoosier homes and businesses.”

Dvorak gave a history lesson to the members of the House about the use of whale oil in the United States as an energy source many years ago. He said the downfall of whale oil came from the same issues the energy industry faces today with new technology.

“Help make America great again by bringing whale oil back,” Dvorak said as he ended his presentation of the amendment. This was followed by some laughter from members in the chamber.

In response, Rep. Alan Morrison, R-Brazil, criticized Dvorak, saying the issue of coal miners losing their jobs is not a joking matter, and the amendment was “disgusting.”

Dvorak responded: “I think this is a very serious issue. I think it’s being handled incredibly irresponsibly. We can continue to live in the past and ignore the way the rest of the world is moving.”

He tried to remove the amendment after his point was made, but House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, had already called for a vote. The amendment failed 11-83, with all “yes” votes coming from Democrats.

Rep. Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis, presented another amendment that would bar state legislators and the governor from receiving any donations from members of the coal industry. The coal industry has donated to Gov. Eric Holcomb and also to state legislators, including Soliday.

DeLaney said the legislature shouldn’t favor helping one for-profit industry, especially one that could result in ratepayers paying more for coal-powered energy.

“How did we come here? To raise rates on people and then receive political contributions from those in the industry who benefit?” DeLaney said.

Rep. Todd Huston, R-Fishers, said Delaney’s amendment troubled him because lawmakers were there to “represent the constituency, not personal motivations.” He said the amendment suggested that people should question lawmakers’ intentions.

DeLaney’s amendment was withdrawn after Bosma ruled the motion was not related to the original content of the bill.

Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, called the downfall of the coal industry “creative destruction,” which he said meant that a once-advanced industry is falling to new technology. He pointed to the example of railroads becoming more obsolete with the creation of highways.

“We’re fighting the natural progression of technology,” Pierce said. “The theory is in the long run, the people who lost their job in the industry that’s running out, will have an opportunity to work in the new industry.”

HB 1414 is eligible for a vote in the House on Monday.