Highlights from the Hoosier Environmental Council’s 2021 Greening the Statehouse
by Sarah R. Williams, Muncie-Delaware County Natural Resources Committee Chair
The Hoosier Environmental Council (HEC) hosted its annual Greening the Statehouse event virtually this year, November 19th-20th, 2021. Muncie-Delaware County LWV members in attendance included Teresa Basey, Lynn Hale, Sarah Williams, and Katie Williams.
In his opening remarks, HEC Executive Director Jesse Kharbanda stated, “Research we gather does still matter to a portion of policy makers.” This statement is an important one, as it falls in step with LWV’s strong tradition of researching issues on many levels prior to formulating official statements of support or opposition.
Mr. Kharbanda’s remarks also offered a natural segue into the morning presentation, “How to Engage your Local Electeds, other Decision makers, and the Community on Environmental Justice,” by speaker Paula Brooks, HEC’s Environmental Justice Coordinator. Ms. Brooks opened her presentation with a definition of the environment as, “where you are”, and listed the framework as indoor air quality, water quality, hazardous wastes, homes and community, infrastructure and transportation, and global environmental health. She continued by saying that, since the environment is where you are, it is also integrated with social justice. Ms. Brooks discussed the importance of using established engagement platforms, such as grassroots organizing, and emphasized the importance of the local community being on-board (versus goals that a stakeholder may have that do not align with the community’s goals). She also pointed out that successful outcomes from grassroots organizing happen only when the effort is a collaboration between stakeholders and the community, and the community’s role/power is never diminished. Ms. Brooks also discussed communicating with city and county council members and lawmakers in a way that makes them feel supported, too. She discussed attending their events and meetings, making donations when appropriate, and stating your case, but also asking, “How can I help you?” Ms. Brooks ended her presentation by encouraging attendees to be an example to others by stepping out of our comfort zones, and elevating and amplifying the voices of others who are impacted.
On the afternoon of Day 2, HEC panelists Dr. Indra Frank (Environmental Health Director), Jesse Kharbanda (Executive Director), Kim Ferraro (Senior Staff Attorney), Paula Brooks (Environmental Justice Coordinator), and Tim Maloney (Senior Policy Director) participated in a panel discussion, “What’s on the mind of the Indiana Environmental Community?” Mr. Maloney discussed how the governor sets the tone of compliance and enforcement of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM). Ms. Ferraro followed up on this topic by saying that language of legislation can often be construed or interpreted differently than originally intended, and legislators should make language more clear in bills by using terms such as “shall” and “must.”
Parting remarks included Mr. Maloney stressing that local politics are still a big issue for state legislators (who can be challenged in primaries), and if public sentiment can be swayed, legislators will pay attention to this. Ms. Brooks added to this by urging attendees to help the public and lawmakers make the connection between quality of life and environmental issues.
Dr. Indra Frank discussed with attendees HEC’s reputation for being scrupulous with its research and facts, and Ms. Ferraro concluded with a call to action for attendees to monitor and advocate on issues brought forth in the HEC Action Alerts.
Due to the diligence of the Hoosier Environmental Council, The League of Women Voters of Indiana follows the recommendations put forth by the HEC to support or oppose bills that affect natural resources and the environment.
Many thanks go out to the Hoosier Environmental Council for hosting this important event, and to the Muncie-Delaware County League of Women Voters for supporting my attendance and environmental advocacy on behalf of LWV.