A controversial bill that removes state protections for most Indiana wetlands is now state law.
Gov. Eric Holcomb signed Senate Enrolled Act 389 into law despite vigorous opposition from dozens of organizations representing conservation, environmental and hunting interests.
The bill was supported by various business interests, including the Indiana Builders Association and the Indiana Farm Bureau.
An early version of the bill passed by the Senate stripped all state protections for Indiana wetlands, but some protections were kept as it passed through the House of Representatives.
The final version removed state protections and permitting requirements for all Class I wetlands, which make up more than 425,000 acres of the state’s total 800,000 acres of wetlands.
Protections for Class II wetlands, which make up about 250,000 acres, were weakened. Protections for Class III wetlands, which only make up about 2.5% of the state’s wetlands, were kept mostly intact.
Holcomb initially expressed concerns about the bill, saying that legislators should be sure that changes in the law would avoid harming drinking water quality, increasing the potential for flooding or hurting wildlife habitats.
The new law also establishes a 14-member taskforce to study those and other wetland issues, but only after halving state protections for wetlands.
Earlier this week, representatives from dozens of organizations delivered a letter to the governor, asking him to veto the bill, saying that removal of wetland protections would negatively affect those areas of concern.
The governor signed the final bill despite the opposition of more than 100 groups representing tens of thousands of Hoosiers.
“Today I signed Senate Enrolled Act 389. The protections that the bill keeps in place over Class II and III wetlands were critical to my decision. This bill was improved in the House of Representatives after I made my opposition known and I appreciate the changes made by lawmakers. Even still, I felt compelled to carefully and deliberately weigh the bill’s intent to protect property rights against its new limitations on land protections. Under this new regulatory scheme, I believe Hoosier farmers and landowners will continue to be careful stewards of the land. In addition, thanks to our new budget, the State of Indiana will continue to lead by example in conservation efforts during my tenure. Indiana will have significant funding to more heavily invest in land acquisition and conservation efforts. We will get to work right away,” the governor said in a written statement.
The recently approved biannual budget has $25 million allotted for conservation land acquisition.
The state could also be eligible to receive grants to purchase land through federal sources, like the Land and Water Conservation Fund or other programs.
“We are disappointed in his decision to support this bad legislation that eliminates regulation protecting most of the state’s remaining isolated wetlands. These wetlands are important, and without these regulations, even more will be destroyed. Their role in retaining water — especially during floods — and recharging our water we depend on is critical to ensuring Indiana’s most precious natural resource is available to us today and future generations of Hoosiers tomorrow,” said Larry Clemons, state director of The Nature Conservancy in Indiana.
The organizations that opposed the bill said they will focus on protecting Indiana’s remaining wetlands through a taskforce create by the new law.
“It is imperative Governor Holcomb appoint a strong leader to the Indiana Wetlands Task Force created in the Act and then appoint members who will seriously undertake an overdue study of our wetlands. The General Assembly needs this information to ensure Indiana doesn’t squander this resource,” said Clemons.
The new law and its changes go into effect July 1.