Indiana lawmakers dial back controversial wetlands bill

Lawmakers watered down a controversial bill seeking to remove protections from Indiana’s already diminished wetlands amid mounting criticism that the proposal could cause damage to the state’s waterways, wildlife and vegetation.

If passed, the measure would eliminate a 2003 law that requires the Indiana Department of Environmental Management to issue permits in a state-regulated wetland and end enforcement proceedings against landowners allegedly violating current law.

An amendment approved unanimously by the House environmental affairs committee Wednesday scales back the intended repeal, however.

The amended bill no longer excludes all classes of wetlands from permitting requirements, but instead provides specific permitting exemptions for croplands and excludes ephemeral, or temporary, streams from being categorized as wetlands.

The bill change also alters mitigation requirements, which Republican Rep. Harold Slager, of Schererville, said is meant to help property owners cut down costs associated with wetlands upkeep.

“I understand that there may be a few little tweaks that we want to do … and a lot of this needs a little deeper dive,” Slager said. “But rather than trying to take a meat cleaver to this, we were a little more surgical and prescriptive in just trying to identify the problem and working within that.”

The bill now heads to the House floor. Slager said the issue has additionally been recommended to a legislative study committee “to see what else we might do” with future wetlands legislation.

Although the bill still broadly reduces wetlands protections, the Hoosier Environmental Council called the amendment “much less damaging” than the Senate-passed version of the bill.

The proposal comes as President Joe Biden’s administration begins review of the previous administration’s rules like the Navigable Waters Protection Rule, which narrowed the definition of waterways that fall under federal protection.

Republican bill author Sen. Chris Garten and other sponsors maintain that vague language in the state law, over-enforcement by state regulators and high mitigation fees that drive up housing costs prompted the drafting. They contend removal of state protections would help developers and grow the housing market.

Environmental groups and state regulatory officials have pushed back, arguing that because wetlands provide water purification, habitat for wildlife and reduced flood risks, it’s critical they’re protected.

While Garten said there would be “zero impact” on overall water quality, the proposed rollbacks have sparked bipartisan opposition within the Republican-dominated Legislature and from Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb.

Republican House Speaker Todd Huston said lawmakers aimed to “narrow the scope of the bill and addresses some concerns” before taking a full chamber vote on the proposal.

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One thought on “Indiana lawmakers dial back controversial wetlands bill

  1. Vague law that needs repeal.
    From IDEM website: “How do I know if I have wetlands on my property/project site?
    Wetlands do not have to have standing water in them in order to be regulated by IDEM or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Determining the boundaries of wetlands is a task that must be conducted by a qualified wetland consultant. Wetlands are delineated by carefully examining a site for the presence of wetland indicators. In order to be a legal wetland, an area must have all three of the following present:
    A dominance of wetland vegetation
    The presence of soils exhibiting hydric characteristics
    Indicators of hydrology (the presence of surface water or waterlogged soils) for a sufficient period of time in most years to influence the types of plants and soils that occur in that area, in order to legally be considered a wetland.
    In order to know if wetlands are on your property, you must hire a wetland or environmental consultant to conduct a wetland delineation on the property. The wetland consultant will put together a report for you, called a wetland delineation report. This report must be submitted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for review and approval before the delineation report is considered accurate and legal. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has the responsibility of making wetland determinations and determining the limits of federal jurisdiction. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will write a letter to you once they have reviewed your wetland delineation report – this letter will state the jurisdiction of the delineated wetlands and will also state whether or not the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers concurs with the delineation. Keep this letter, and your wetland delineation report, in a safe place as you will need to submit a copy of both to IDEM if you wish to apply for permits.”

    So if I want to do something on my land, I have to spend money on consultants to tell me whether or not I need a permit from IDEM first. Shouldn’t the State be obligated to tell each person they impose limitations on that they are limited. The “land of the free” is not feeling as free as it once did.