Indiana Legislature Guts Wetlands Protection

Indiana Legislature Guts Wetlands Protection

From the Sierran newsletter, with minor revisions

The rumbling you hear in the background is the sound of bulldozers warming up to start eradicating small Indiana wetlands this spring.

Ignoring a gubernatorial veto, a strong public outcry, and newspaper editorials from around the state, the Indiana legislature has stripped most protections from so-called “isolated wetlands” — those wetlands not considered to be waters of the United States. (The federal government continues to assert authority over wetlands that connect to “navigable waters,” i.e., rivers, streams and lakes.)

In late January the legislature overrode former Governor Frank O’Bannon’s veto of House Enrolled Act 1798, the law that contains the wetlands language, by overwhelming margins — two-to-one in the House of Representatives and almost three-to-one in the Senate. The act also contains language allowing municipalities and counties to raise taxes to meet new stormwater control requirements and calling for a shutdown in motor vehicle emissions testing in Clark and Floyd counties by 2007.

Legislators fixed some flaws in the wetlands law with a new bill (HB 1277), but the minor changes made will still leave most small wetlands, as well as many larger wetlands, unprotected.HB 1277 is pending final legislative approval at this writing. The new law purports to classify wetlands into three categories based on their supposed quality, but the unscientific classification scheme will qualify few if any wetlands for the most protective category. The middle category leaves wetlands under one-quarter acre unprotected, while half-acre wetlands in the lowest category are vulnerable. Some legislators concede that they may have to adjust the law once its impact is felt.



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Images courtesy of Steven Huyser-Honig,
West Grand Boulevard Collaborative, & Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.