By Linda Gibson
Gov. Eric Holcomb has signed a bill that ends state protection for about 80 percent of Indiana’s wetlands, habitat that iconic species such as bald eagles depend on.
The remaining 20 percent are under protection from the federal Clean Water Act.
Until now, developers, farmers, miners or others who wanted to dredge, fill or discharge into wetlands had to get a permit from Indiana’s Department of Environmental Management. Although IDEM in 2020 sought sanctions for only one violator of wetlands regulations, builders complained that the permit process was a heavy burden under what the bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Chris Garten of Scottsburg, Ind., called “out-of-control” IDEM enforcement agents.
One hundred organizations, and all Democrats in the Legislature, opposed the bill. Five organizations supported it, led by the Indiana Builders Association.
Indiana Rep. Sue Errington, a Democrat from Muncie who pushed for the wetlands task force authorized by the bill, said she was “deeply disappointed” about the rest of it. “The Governor has given into the demands of private interests and turned his back on the hundred organizations, who represent thousands of Hoosiers, that called for him to veto this legislation,” she said.
Opponents of the bill, including Save the Dunes and the Hoosier Environmental Council, say it “… represents one of the greatest setbacks in the history of Indiana conservation policy because it places hundreds of thousands of acres of wetlands in jeopardy. The potential loss … could considerably cost the state in increased flooding, lost groundwater recharge, lost water purification, and lost wildlife habitat, driving up property damage, taxpayer-funded infrastructure repairs, and damaging Indiana’s vibrant recreational sector. “
Developers, farmers or anyone seeking to disturb a wetland still have to get expert consultation on whether it is federally protected, or a state Class I wetland that gets no protection.
The task force created by the bill will study the state of wetlands in Indiana and their impacts. It is to report its findings to the legislature on November 1st, 2022.
The Hoosier Environmental Council‘s website has lists of legislators who voted for or against the bill, as well as information on how to find your legislator. For a list of organizations who supported the bill, see the post “The future of Indiana wetlands: bald eagles or bulldozers?”