A bill stripping Class I and many Class II isolated wetlands of any state protections has passed the Indiana House, delivering a setback to environmental and other organizations trying to maintain current safeguards against wetland farming and development
Senate Bill 389 originally repealed state protections for all wetlands that had been in place since 2003. Last week, the House Environmental Affairs Committee added an amendment that would preserve state protections for the majority of wetlands and add more exemptions for cropland.
But Monday afternoon, during a House hearing on the bill, a new amendment was adopted on the floor that would strip Class I and significantly reduce Class II protections for wetlands. This version of the bill passed 58 to 40 Tuesday.
Rep. Matt Lehman (R-Berne), one of the bill’s sponsors, said he thought this version of the bill provided a better balance between environmental and business concerns.
“I think this allows the farming community and the landowners back in control,” he said.
However, many lawmakers cautioned that eliminating protections for Class I and II wetlands could cause problems in the future, such as flooding and loss of groundwater storage.
Rep. Maureen Bauer (D-South Bend), in urging lawmakers to vote against the bill, said flooding had affected her district and expressed concern about the impact of the loss of wetlands for the state.
“We need to be a more resilient state in the time of natural disaster. Our natural resources are our last line of defense,” she said.
Also on Monday afternoon, Rep. Hal Slager (R-Schererville) introduced an additional amendment to SB389 to form a 14-member task force that would provide lawmakers with technical information on wetlands and help guide them with legislation. The amendment was added to the bill.
“There is so much to wetlands that we don’t know. We really need to do a deep dive with people who understand what the impacts are of our actions,” he said. “It’s not the kind of thing we can adequately legislate without that kind of knowledge.”
Many state organizations and citizens have spoken out against SB389. Dr. Indra Frank, director of environmental health and water policy for the Hoosier Environmental Council said that if the bill becomes law, the loss of wetlands could lead to higher costs associated with flooding, as well as a loss of groundwater recharge, water purification and wildlife habitat.
“More generally, SB 389 sends the wrong signal to businesses and talent that make decisions in part on a state’s environmental quality and reputation,” she said. “We urge House and Senate leadership to heed the call of over 80 well-respected environmental, conservation, civic, sportsmen's, faith, lake, river and professional organizations that are opposed to SB 389 — an unprecedented degree of unity — and urge the Senate and House sponsors to convert this bill to a Wetlands Task Force in conference committee.”
The bill will now return to the Senate with the additional amendments.