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Lawmakers earmark more money to environment, conservation programs in state budget

By Rebecca Thiele, IPB News | Published on in Community, Environment, Government, Politics
Lawmakers earmarked $30 million for trails in the state budget, though the governor had proposed $50 million. (FILE PHOTO: Justin Hicks/IPB News)

When the governor approves the state budget, several Indiana environment and conservation programs will see a funding boost. The Hoosier Environmental Council said the legislature appropriated a significant amount of money for land conservation and trails — though a lot less than it was hoping for.

Indiana plans to give $10 million to the President Benjamin Harrison Conservation Trust Fund. The HEC said it’s not the $25 million the governor proposed, but it’s still the most the state has ever appropriated to the trust without the help of federal dollars.

Lawmakers also earmarked $30 million for trails, though the governor had proposed $50 million.

HEC Executive Director Sam Carpenter said a lot of people visited Indiana’s state parks and trails during the pandemic Stay-At-Home orders — and that demand remains strong.

“These are investments that help retain and attract talent in Indiana. And I know that’s a big focus for the legislators in the General Assembly as well as for our corporate businesses,” he said.

Lawmakers also increased funding for staff at the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

HEC senior policy director Tim Maloney said low pay has caused the agency to lose some of its more experienced employees and hasn’t encouraged new people passionate about public service to apply.

“The prior salary levels really prevented them from doing so. It was, in some cases, hardly enough to raise a family,” Maloney said.

READ MORE: Cash-strapped state environmental agencies face more budget cuts

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An extra $5 million will go to the Clean Water Indiana program which help farmers and landowners reduce erosion into waterways. A report last year said Indiana had the most polluted rivers and streams of any state — mostly due to runoff from large animal farms.

The state also increased fees for motorboats, which will mean an extra $1.2 million for things like improving habitats for aquatic life.

Money for inspecting concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), the Indiana Department of Natural Resources’ Fish and Wildlife Division, and the State Highway Fund also increased.

About the only line item that saw a significant decrease was funding for riverside cleanups, which went down by about 73 percent.

Rebecca is our energy and environment reporter. Contact her at rthiele@iu.edu or follow her on Twitter at @beckythiele.