Federal policy jumpstarts carbon emission reduction in Indiana

The Indiana Department of Transportation will work toward net-zero carbon emissions by encouraging electric vehicle use and increasing fuel efficiency, thanks to an expected $156 million in federal funds.

INDOT’s carbon reduction strategy was designed according to federal legislation — the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law — which was passed and enacted in 2021. The law requires states to create a plan by November 2023 to reduce transportation sector emissions and provides funding for implementation.

“The Federal Highway Administration has charged state DOTs to do their part to address carbon emissions through the Carbon Reduction Program that was announced last spring,” INDOT said in a statement. “INDOT, as well as other states will be implementing a variety of strategies, projects and programs designed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from transportation-related sources.”

In the draft plan INDOT highlights several strategies. They range from increased fuel efficiency, more electric vehicles, investments in transit, bicycle and pedestrian facilities and technology to improve traffic flow.

The state hired HNTB Indiana to develop the strategy in a contract worth $199,000.

A key part of the draft plan is its investment in electric vehicle charging stations. The state plans to build charging stations along all interstates and U.S. Highway 31, with construction expected to begin in 2024.

But an equally ambitious part of the plan sets out to transition to less car-dependent infrastructure. To accomplish this, INDOT told the Indiana Capital Chronicle it would incorporate bicycle and pedestrian elements into its process for choosing and developing projects.

With 65% of federal funds allocated to urbanized areas throughout the state, many opportunities for transit will be in partnership with metropolitan planning organizations in Indianapolis, Bloomington and Northwest Indiana. For example, INDOT said it plans to continue to support commuter rail projects in Northwest Indiana with the Double Track and West Lake Corridor projects.

Ben Inskeep, program director at Citizens Action Coalition, said the report lacked detail about implementation and data for how strategies would reduce carbon emissions. INDOT told the Capital Chronicle it was working on developing ways to track emissions, and would aim to meet the nation’s net-zero emissions by 2050 goal.

In 2020, Indiana emitted 154 million metric tons of carbon dioxide — the eighth-highest in the country. From 2015 to 2020, transportation represented 22% of Indiana’s emissions, which is less than the national average in part due to the state’s high emissions in the electricity sector, according to the draft plan.

More than half of emissions in the electricity sector in Indiana are from coal, an industry which has been steadily declining in Indiana since 2010, when coal contributed to 90% of electricity sector emissions. This means electric vehicle use in Indiana currently does not reduce emissions as much as it does in states with a cleaner electricity portfolio.

However, Inskeep said he was optimistic about Indiana’s electricity sector, pointing to the fact that four of the five investor-owned utilities in the state have promised to retire coal-fired power plants by 2030.

With cleaner electricity on the horizon, Inskeep said the real challenge was ensuring equitable distribution of charging stations throughout their construction.

In general, Inskeep said equity and diversity was lacking in the draft plan, a result of what he sees as too little public outreach.

“What I’d like to see in future iterations of this is more emphasis on lower-income folks in marginalized communities,” he said.

Inskeep also criticized the state’s willingness to enter into car-centric projects that are sometimes delayed or go over budget while not investing in infrastructure like bike lanes. In addition to reducing emissions, moving away from a focus on cars creates more affordable opportunities for transportation, he said.

Rep. Carey Hamilton, D-Indianapolis, said INDOT’s plan lacks specific goals and misses critical opportunities.

In particular, Hamilton said the plan’s list of potential incentives for electric vehicles does not include getting rid of Indiana’s current electric vehicle fees, which could discourage people from switching to electric. Since the legislature’s road-funding package was passed in 2017, electric vehicle users have paid an extra $150 to register their vehicle each year. For hybrid vehicles, the fee is $50.

Hamilton said she was disappointed with the lack of climate action from this year’s legislative session, which she said failed to advance renewable energy initiatives. Although Hamilton proposed a climate commission to look into the state’s needs and opportunities surrounding climate change, she said her bill did not get a hearing.

Ultimately, Hamilton said efforts to enact climate policy have met resistance from the Republican supermajority in the legislature.

“Indiana is behind the curve on climate policy,” she said.

By Marissa Meador. The Indiana Capital Chronicle is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that covers state government, policy and elections.