A piece of 2021 legislation has made it just over halfway through the process to becoming law with minimal scrutiny. Hoosiers who care about preserving the right of local communities to control their own quality of life should take notice of House Bill 1381, an imminent threat to home rule.
For over 40 years, state law has made clear that counties and municipalities shall have "all the powers that they need for the effective operation of government as to local affairs.” This principle is known as “home rule.” One way counties use home rule is to make decisions regarding land use planning and zoning.
During the last decade or so, counties have exercised this power in regard to wind and solar development. County commissioners in over 30 Indiana counties, such as Boone, Marshall and Pulaski, have passed ordinances that restrict or ban industrial wind.
These bans and ordinances are the result of months and even years of study and public input and reflect the will of the people in those counties. Commissioners and residents did their homework and decided that industrial wind “farms” were not right for their county.
Commissioners in other counties, such as Benton, Jay, Randolph, Warren and White, made a different decision and allowed industrial wind. Tipton County allowed an industrial wind project to be built and then, realizing that was not the right decision for them, passed a moratorium on further wind development.
Enter Ed Soliday, a state representative from Valparaiso, who is the author of HB 1381, which establishes statewide standards for siting of wind and solar installations. If passed, this bill would invalidate all existing county ordinances and moratoriums. The House approved the measure by a vote of 58-38 on Feb. 17, and the Senate began consideration of the bill March 1.
Rep. Soliday cites economic factors as his motive for the bill. He states that “renewables are here” and are wanted by “almost every large corporation in the state,” providing as an example car exporters that must meet energy requirements from the European Union. Without specifying examples, he claims there are businesses not coming to Indiana because we don’t have enough renewable energy.
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Soliday dismisses the objections of the residents in those 30-plus counties as “not-in-my-back-yard” thinking, labeling their concerns about wind as “mythology.” He portrays home rule as “problematic when one city or county does something that affects another city or county’s ability to do economic development.”
This is dangerous reasoning. Under this logic, the state government can choose to make some areas of the state less livable in order to support the economic development of other areas. That is the exact outcome that would result if HB 1381 were to become law. Indiana’s rural communities are not commodities to be sold to the highest bidder. Sacrificing the quality of life for some to serve the economic interests of others is what’s truly problematic.
The passage of HB 1381 would make evident that Indiana has home rule in name only. If the state is going to tell counties and municipalities that they can govern themselves but then overrule them when those localities make decisions the state doesn't like, then we really don’t have home rule at all.
We live in a diverse state, and each of Indiana’s 92 counties is unique. HB 1381 essentially says that a one-size-fits-all approach is best when it comes to industrial wind and solar in Indiana. What is good for Parke County (population nearly 17,000) is good for Hendricks County (population 170,000), is also good for Lake County (population 485,000). Surely not. Surely the best approach is to let the people of each county and their county commissioners decide what is right for them.
Please call your senator and ask them to reject this blatant power grab, HB 1381.
Jennifer Miller is the president of Hoosiers for Home Rule.