Q+A: Indiana’s GOP candidates for governor address environmental issues

The six Republican candidates for governor at a Carmel debate on March 11, 2024. (Whitney Downard/Indiana Capital Chronicle)

By Casey Smith | Indiana Capital Chronicle

For The Republic

INDIANAPOLIS — How should Indiana’s next governor handle environmental issues, from climate change and water supply to affordable energy?

The Indiana Capital Chronicle asked the six Republican candidates for governor — U.S. Sen. Mike Braun, Brad Chambers, Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, Eric Doden, former Attorney General Curtis Hill and Jamie Reitenour — where they stand on various environmental issues.

The following four questions were shared with all of the candidates and all were asked to limit their responses to 150 words. Their responses are printed as submitted, with only light edits for spacing or full names.

The winner of the crowded Republican primary could go on to be Indiana’s next governor, succeeding the term-limited Gov. Eric Holcomb. The primary election will be held on May 7 and early voting opens next week.

Just one Democrat, Jennifer McCormick — the state’s former Superintendent for Public Instruction — qualified for the primary ballot, making her the presumptive nominee. Donald Rainwater won the nod from the Libertarian Party in a private convention.

Researchers caution that heavier rainfall and hotter, drier summers are likely in Indiana’s future. What steps might you want the state to take to prepare for — or mitigate — the effects of climate change? Particularly, how might the state ensure Hoosier farmers are able to adapt?

  • Braun: As a lifelong conservationist, I believe we need conservative solutions to protect our natural resources. Otherwise, the far left will steamroll the American people with crazy ideas like the Green New Deal. As governor, I will work on having real conversations and solutions about protecting our environment, securing America’s energy future, and protecting American manufacturing jobs.
  • Chambers: With our agricultural heritage and history of innovation in several industries, Indiana is poised to be a leader in the future of agriculture. As much as we may be presented with new challenges, we can and should turn them into opportunities. Agriculture technology is rapidly improving, and the sector has a strong and growing presence in Indiana. We should continue to prioritize investments in AgTech and our entrepreneurs in the state who are building these new technologies. However, we should also help farmers adopt them, which are often cost-prohibitive. That’s why I’ve proposed an “Agriculture Readiness Grant” program that will provide matching funds for farmers to invest in these new technologies that will boost output and optimize efficiencies.
(Photo by Whitney Downard/Illustration by Casey Smith) 

  • Doden: ​Traveling the state, I hear a simple message from farmers over and over: they love what they do and want to keep the farm in their family for generations to come. Preserving that land, water, and way of life while also making sound development and resource decisions is a delicate balance and one that requires a multifaceted approach. We think a state-wide water resource plan is in the best interest of the state and conducting further research is necessary to secure our state’s water – instead of jumping into a project without knowing if the resources even exist, as we have seen with LEAP. We’re the only campaign that’s said on day one all department heads will have to reapply for their jobs because we need greater transparency in government and more people who can be held accountable, which includes our Department of Natural Resources who would handle water issues in the state.
(Photo by Whitney Downard/Illustration by Casey Smith) 

  • Reitenour: I have met extensively with Hoosier farmers from across the state, and am committed to an administration that listens to and helps farmers be more productive and less burdened. Farmers have expressed to me that their greatest challenges come from the current federal regulations they have to work around. Not one farmer has cited climate change or the need for more regulation around climate change as a challenge that they want their governor to take on. On the contrary, farmers have told me that they want a governor who will not only represent their interest at the state level, but will work with governors across the nation to directly take on federal regulatory overreach, granting them the relief and support they need. This will be my focus to support our state’s hard-working farmers and our rich agricultural heritage!

A plan to divert billions of gallons of water per year from the Lafayette region down to Boone County for the high-tech LEAP park has increased attention to the state’s water quantity and quality. What concerns, if any, do you have about Indiana’s water sources, and what plan might you have to guarantee Hoosier communities have adequate access to clean water?

  • Chambers: Indiana is fortunate to have an abundant water supply — it’s one of our greatest assets and gives us a competitive advantage against other states. However, it isn’t always in the right place. When I became secretary of commerce for just $1 a year, I was surprised that the state didn’t have a strategic water plan. It took someone from outside the political system to see the opportunity Indiana had and the need to study our water assets. LEAP is perfectly located between Purdue University, whose semiconductor programs are world-renowned, and the Indianapolis workforce. The career politicians for years have failed to address the impending water challenges in central Indiana. Now, through LEAP, we can address it using new inbound investments to pay for any necessary water transportation infrastructure to ensure adequate water supply for all communities — without putting it on the backs of Hoosier taxpayers.
  • Crouch: My position on these issues remains clear: Indiana needs a statewide water plan, and as governor I will commission one. We cannot allow rural counties to be a mere spigot for the water needs of urban areas. My statewide water plan will focus on Quality (ensuring clean water), Quantity (adequate supply for all), and Distribution (ensuring fairness for all of Indiana). I will ensure our agricultural community has a seat at the table as it will be directly impacted by these critical economic and resource planning decisions. LEAP-type projects must have greater transparency, collaboration, and accountability. The areas from which water is pulled must not be considered an afterthought, and they won’t be in a Crouch administration.
(Photo by Whitney Downard/Illustration by Casey Smith) 

  • Doden: ​As a proud product of a small town, I am the only candidate in this race with a plan to restore economic opportunity in rural Indiana. There are 2.7 million Hoosiers who live in communities of 30,000 or less, and for far too long politicians in Indianapolis have forgotten about them. Indiana is built on small-town values and our economy is driven by main-street businesses. Growing up in Butler and Auburn, I know first-hand what it’s like to live in a struggling small town, and as governor, we need to change the trajectory of these communities. The LEAP project is a case-in-point of our state’s neglect of these communities. A major part of our plan is to preserve and enhance our water resources. During this campaign, I’ve been critical of water allocation decisions surrounding the LEAP project. For a resource as important as water, Indiana needs to be transparent and strategic in how it makes decisions to allocate and preserve our natural resources. Our team will bring a 92-county economic strategy for the state, rather than go after singular huge projects that also put a strain on surrounding communities and their resources.
  • Hill: I have spoken with dozens of farmers, residents and business owners throughout Boone County and nearby regions, and they have major concerns that have yet to be addressed. If water has to be brought in from 53 miles away to make the project work, then the project itself is not feasible. Over-ambitious growth without the infrastructure or resources necessary to keep the project from disrupting local agriculture and way of life is detrimental to the region. I echo the concerns of Boone County residents who believe this project is doing more harm than good, and the guaranteed economic consequences outweigh the potential benefits. Precautions need to be taken to ensure that the environmental and economic disruptions are mitigated, but until then, this project should not continue.
(Photo by Whitney Downard/Illustration by Casey Smith) 

Note: Chambers — who formerly headed the Indiana Economic Development Corp. (IEDC) — led the landmark LEAP Innovation District in Boone County. The controversial development is anchored by a $3.7 billion investment from pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly & Co. Chambers has maintained the project is critical to Indiana’s economic development when competing with other states for lucrative companies. Other GOP candidates have expressed skepticism, however.

Planning for the proposed pipeline is still in the early stages. The IEDC launched a feasibility study last year, though that study since been moved under the Indiana Finance Authority after Tippecanoe County officials raised concerns about transparency.

Indiana currently produces more than half of its electricity from coal, but the state is now in the midst of an industry transition to cleaner energy sources, like renewables. What plan do you have to support the state through that ongoing transition, and ensure new energy sources meet growing demands?

  • Braun: Indiana should embrace an energy policy that unleashes the prosperity of our state’s abundant natural resources and embraces new technologies that can deliver clean and affordable energy. As governor, I will stand up to those who are forcing a transition to technologies that can’t meet energy demands, risk rolling blackouts, mean higher costs, and lead to lost jobs for thousands of Hoosiers.
  • Chambers: Indiana is facing two impending energy challenges: costs that have risen out of control and a supply base that will need to grow to meet increased demand because of population and industry growth. We’ll create a strategic plan and incentivize energy technology and production innovation for all sources of power, including wind, solar, natural gas, coal, hydrogen, and nuclear. As we develop new energy technologies, we have to mitigate rate increases that devastate Hoosier families and hurt our economic competitiveness. To avoid continued rising costs, we will push back against EPA pressure for premature closure of Indiana’s coal-fired power plants. We’ll work with utilities to create a credible plan for building and financing natural gas-fired power plants capable of producing at least 5 GW of new electric power over the next five years and we’ll continue to support the innovation at the Midwest Hydrogen Hub in Northwest Indiana.
(Photo by Whitney Downard/Illustration by Casey Smith) 

  • Crouch: My energy policy will be diversified with an “all the above” strategy focused on affordability, reliability, and sustainability. Additionally, I will work with our utility companies to ensure coal generation is a part of my energy strategy. We also need to foster increased competition so that innovation and low prices remain to the benefit of Hoosiers. The state’s aging fleet of generation is in transition, but we must realize the most affordable and reliable power in the future will likely be a combination of renewables and natural gas generation. Our state needs the energy investments for a reliable future, and I will make sure it is done with a focus on affordability.
  • Hill: As governor, I will support fossil fuel use and fight for Hoosiers to have control over their energy needs and not have to succumb to the burdensome regulations of the federal government. We must implement a common sense approach that utilizes our resources as efficiently as possible, is mindful of our environmental needs, and manages our energy wisely. Green tech is not realistic or sustainable and Indianapolis should not mandate Hoosiers buy or engage with it. In my administration, we will not pick winners and losers. Hardworking Hoosiers cannot afford overpriced and unproven sustainable energy sources. Green energy might be there one day, but it is not there right now, and Indiana is not a testing lab. We need to focus on the proven energy sources that have fueled Hoosier farms for generations.
  • Reitenour: I acknowledge and appreciate Indiana’s history with the coal industry and desire to increase the proven coal industry presence, including cutting edge technology and better logistical support. I have a meeting scheduled to meet with workers in the coal industry to hear their needs and better position the state to support them. Coal is a proven energy source that has long met the needs of Hoosiers, and we should not discount that. I hear strong opposition to solar and wind from Hoosier farmers whose land is rich and should be used as they’ve productively used it for generations. I support private sector research and implementation of renewable energy sources, to the extent that the free market calls for it. My administration will focus on Indiana’s farmland and the diversifying of Indiana’s agricultural portfolio, and promising educational gains by building K-12 farming educational programs for the next generation of Hoosier farmers.

Note: Indiana utilities are actively transitioning away from coal. Clean energy advocates expect the state’ grid to have only minimal coal reliance after 2030. As of 2022, the Hoosier state ranked third for most coal use in the country. But Indiana is one of four states with the most coal-fired capacity announced to retire through 2029, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Being a manufacturing-intensive state that’s heavily reliant on fossil fuels for power, Indiana has long struggled with air quality and is one of the most polluted states in the country. While bipartisan interest is growing to address those issues, it can be costly. How much of those new costs should be passed along to Hoosier customers?

  • Braun: The world’s biggest polluters are China and India, not Hoosiers, and we should not have to pay more for energy because of their poor decisions. I will work on solutions that build on that success and protect the environment without passing additional costs onto hardworking Hoosiers.
  • Crouch: Recently, I publicly criticized CenterPoint Energy’s proposed $46 monthly rate hike for its electric customers. Given the increased cost of living during the past few years, CenterPoint’s request couldn’t possibly come at a worse time. As a state representative, I sponsored an energy bill saving Hoosier ratepayers more than $1 billion. I have the experience in the energy space to work with providers while protecting customers. As governor, I will work with Carmel-based MISO (Midcontinent Independent System Operator) to develop policies to keep prices for Indiana businesses affordable and find ways to leverage our hometown advantage with the grid operator in our own backyard.
(Photo by Whitney Downard/Illustration by Casey Smith) 

  • Doden: ​Our next governor’s focus should be to make sure Hoosiers have affordable, reliable and available energy. Right now, that means natural gas and coal. If we don’t, we’ll continue to be at a disadvantage to other states and global adversaries like China. Indiana uses more energy than it produces. This is a problem because we must buy power off the national grid that can be up to seven times more expensive than we produce at home. We need to start working on this now, but it’s going to take years to get done. That’s why on day one, I will sign an executive order to keep our coal plants open, generating power, until the market supports a reliable and affordable replacement. At the end of the day, I’ll support any energy source that keeps costs low and the lights on for homeowners and businesses. Our strategy prioritizes a diverse energy portfolio, energy efficiency, and market-driven solutions, ensuring Hoosiers have reliable and affordable energy now and in the future.
  • Hill: Big government carbon capture policies are hurting Hoosier farmers and businesses. If we want to encourage sustainable environmental practices, we need to cut the overbearing regulation that Indianapolis has placed on businesses throughout our state. While Hoosier consumers are struggling to make ends meet with rising costs of goods and services, the last thing our government needs to be doing is intentionally forcing businesses to raise their costs. Our administration will never succumb to radical energy policies adopted by progressive Democrats, and we will always put the needs of consumers, farmers, and businesses first.
  • Reitenour: I’m looking to pursue nuclear energy options with other states that mirror Indiana’s nuclear energy partnership with Michigan. Strategic partnerships could both provide our state with energy and provide a new revenue source for our state. Manufacturers in Indiana must abide by federal regulation, but we are not going to be a state that dissuades business investment and job creation through additional state-imposed regulatory burden. Hoosiers work hard, manufacturing jobs have been important to our middle-class economy, and with a renewed national focus on bringing lost jobs back into the United States, Indiana is well-positioned as a manufacturing destination. We welcome it.

Note: Although Indiana’s air quality is improving, the state has the most polluted rivers and streams of any state, according to a report by the Environmental Integrity Project. Additionally, Crouch references CenterPoint Electric’s December 2023 proposed rate hike filing with the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC). If approved, the average CenterPoint customer will see monthly electric bills increase by $47.24 by 2026, according to the Citizens Action Coalition.

This is the final installment of the Indiana Capital Chronicle’s question-and-answer pieces. The GOP candidates have already weighed in on the economy, education and taxes.

— The Indiana Capital Chronicle covers state government and the state legislature. For more, visit indianacapitalchronicle.com.