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INDIANAPOLIS — Due to the pandemic, Indiana is going to have to make major budget cuts next session.

Environmentalists are already arguing that taking away funding for an agency that regulates air quality is the worst thing you could do in the age of COVID-19.

The Hoosier Environmental Council’s number one priority in 2021 will be to protect the Indiana Department of Environmental Management budget.

“So that they have adequate inspectors and enforcement staff that can make sure that pollution is held in check,” explained Executive Director Jesse Kharbanda.

Air quality is top of the council’s list — especially during a pandemic for a virus that typically attacks lungs.

“Our overarching objective is to protect public health and for us that means making sure that people are not exposed to air toxins that could worsen their lungs and worsen their immune system,” said Kharbanda.

Right now, lawmakers haven’t promised to spare IDEM from any cuts. Only education has been given that protection.

“I don’t think there are many priorities that could be more important than ensuring a clean environment,” said Democratic State Rep. Matt Pierce.

However, he said some lawmakers may not feel that way.

“If you have legislators that are not particularly excited about strong environmental enforcement, they may think it’s not a problem to reduce the resources available to IDEM,” said Pierce.

The new House Environmental Affairs Chair State Rep. Doug Gutwein just got his position earlier in the week and said he needs more time before discussing 2021 priorities.

Rep. Pierce would like him to hear a bill encouraging the transition to clean energy jobs.

“The best policy is to get those coal plants closed,” said Pierce. “And then at the same time, work on getting those workers retrained in new jobs and help those local units of government find new streams of revenue.”

Legislation on this topic is expected but has yet to be filed.