Sounding the Alarm On Climate Change Amid the Coronavirus Pandemic

The Issues

  • 01.Health Care
  • 02.Education
  • 03.Climate
  • 04.Economic Development
  • 05.Workforce

Released April 22, 2020

As the coronavirus pandemic bears down on us, we must not lose focus of another health security threat persistently overcoming us: climate change. Our national and state leaders’ inadequate response to the spread of coronavirus is similar to their business-as-usual handling of climate change, choosing to ignore science and to place blame elsewhere. Just like the coronavirus, we can’t ignore our climate emergency. Hoosiers are suffering from a climate pandemic they can’t yet fully see, but whose effects we already feel. We must take the lessons learned by our failed response to coronavirus and immediately apply them to tackle climate change in order to save our environment and improve Hoosier health before it’s too late. The reality is that climate change is likely linked to coronavirus in ways many scientists are only beginning to fully explore, generating risks and unmasking vulnerabilities. The time for genuine leadership on climate change is now.

Our forests play a crucial role in removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and reversing the effects of climate change on people. Yet the mismanagement of our forests and ecological systems over the years has prevented Indiana from maximizing this resource’s potential, both in terms of greenhouse gas reduction and job creation in the timber industry. Governor Holcomb has done nothing to help reforestation efforts. This year he signed a law that will hurt our remaining forested wetlands.[1] His commitment to planting one million trees is simply not enough to address climate change.[2] Hoosiers want leaders to start thinking outside the box, to be opportunistic and visionary. Safeguarding and expanding our forestry and ecological systems must be part of our climate change solutions.

Renewable energy sources are essential for electricity generation to reduce the impact of climate change. In Indiana, wind and solar, with smaller amounts from biomass, hydroelectric, and geothermal comprise renewables.[3] If we stop polluting our air, we can slow the damaging effects of climate change. That’s why the transition from fossils fuels to renewable energy sources must be a priority and must happen more quickly.

We can have a strong, functioning economy, a cleaner environment, and improved public health with renewable energy sources. And renewable energy can continue to be a source of new Hoosier jobs.     

We have the wind potential in Indiana today to generate more than four times our current electricity consumption.[4] What we lack is the political will to make it happen. Today only 5 percent of our electricity comes from renewable energy sources, while the vast majority is still generated from burning coal, making Indiana the eighth largest state contributor of climate-changing gases in the nation.[5] While fossil fuels will be required at some level to supplement electricity generation to maintain current energy production technology, we need to drastically reduce our reliance on them.

A local response to addressing climate change requires Indiana to immediately shift our energy profile.

Too many state leaders have been resistant to cleaner energy, claiming a shift to renewables would compromise our electric grid. That’s simply not true.

Governor Holcomb and his legislative leaders have removed incentives for homeowners to install solar panels, thereby stalling the growth of a once booming industry and resulting in job losses.[6] He also signed into law a measure intended to phase out retail rate compensation for residents who put energy back on the grid from rooftop solar installations.[7] His efforts are a direct attempt to diminish solar energy resources and further kill renewable energy jobs.

Rather than retiring our aging coal-fired plants, Governor Holcomb signed into law this year a measure to pause plant retirements and backed a proposal to inhibit new, cleaner-burning power plants.[8] Coal is the prime contributor to climate change, releasing a tremendous amount of dangerous, unhealthy greenhouse gas into the atmosphere. Governor Holcomb’s “coal-first” environmental stance is just wrong.

Indiana can’t risk having to navigate another crisis. We already know the negative impacts that changing weather patterns have on our infrastructure, agricultural industry, forestry and biodiversity, air quality, and health. While a global response to climate change is needed, a state response is also needed requiring Hoosiers to make important policy decisions to eliminate unnecessary risks. We now know how quickly a pandemic can reveal cracks in our health care systems and our food and medical supply chains; wreak havoc our financial markets and disrupt our economy, mobility, and daily lives. Let’s do all we can to mitigate a climate emergency, while we still can.

As Governor, I’ll:

  • Establish a goal to increase the number of forest acres from 5 million to 7.5 million over 10 years to offset carbon emissions from fossil fuels.
  • Restore the Division of Forestry budget back to 2010 funding levels that will allow us to better direct reforestation efforts and to add appropriate staffing.
  • Effectively manage our growing Classified Forestry and Wildlands program to incentivize landowners to help keep private forests complete, while also permitting marginal ground to return to forests, thereby encouraging healthy, sustainable forests.
  • Strengthen the Conservation and Reserve Program to urge farmers to convert erodible and less farmable land to more responsible vegetation cover.
  • Explore inviting companies to purchase carbon offsets as a way to enhance reforestry efforts.
  • Speed retirement of coal plants, while helping Hoosiers working in the industry find real alternatives.
  • Update Indiana’s renewable energy standards and set a new clean energy goal, renewing our commitment to a cleaner future.
  • Inventory our greenhouse gas emissions for electricity and develop realistic reduction targets, as 22 others states have already done.[9]
  • Establish more renewable energy rebates, grants, and credits to boost investment in the clean energy industry and create high-paying jobs.
  • Provide incentives to retrofit our brownfields and our abandoned mined land for solar farms and install solar panels on the rooftops of state government buildings to advance our solar industry and increase employment opportunities.

The climate fight in Indiana is being waged upon us. Hoosiers need a leader willing to take it on and win with smart policy solutions that protect our health and safety. As Governor, I’ll be committed to maintaining and protecting our environment and natural resources that support our timber industry, outdoor and recreational industry, and quality of life we’ve come to love and cherish about Indiana.

 

[1] Hoosier Environmental Council, Anti-Wetlands Bill (SB 229)

[2] 2020 State of the State Address

[3] U.S. Energy Information Administration, Indiana Profile

[4] Indiana State Summary, U.S. Department of Energy

[5] Climate Change and Indiana’s Energy Sector: A Report from Climate Change Impacts Assessment, Purdue University, March 2020

[6] Indiana governor signs bill aimed at dimming solar incentive,” AP, May 2017

[7] “Indiana will phase out retail rate net metering,” Utility Dive, May 2017 and “Indiana’s solar industry has slowed way down,” IndyStar, February 2019

[8]Indiana governor signs bill temporarily delaying coal plant closures,” Midwest Energy News, March 2020 and “Indiana Republicans aim to prohibit opening new power plants,” AP, April 2019

[9] Renewable energy explained, U.S. Energy Information Administration

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