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Indiana bill would completely de-regulate isolated wetlands

Indiana DNR photo
Indiana DNR photo
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The Indiana Senate has approved a bill that would remove all protections from the state's isolated wetlands.

"Isolated" meaning wetlands that aren't connected to larger streams, rivers, or lakes.

Supporters say it will lower the cost of development by removing red tape, but environmental activists are worried about the wetlands disappearing.

We took a look at the impact it could have.

If a developer wants to remove an isolated wetland from their property, as the law stands right now they have to pay the state's Department of Environmental Management to replace it elsewhere.

“It’s not a negative thing. The problem is the impact and the cost,” said Indiana state Senator Blake Doriot (R—Goshen).

Doriot voted for the bill because farmers and developers in his district have said IDEM's process is bureaucratic and burdensome. And he thinks the fines are excessive.

“I’m not saying we just need to rip through everything, but when you hold a project up for six months, that’s a lot of money, that’s a lot of jobs, and that’s a lot of interest these people are paying,” said Doriot.

Environmental activists worry the bill would make wetlands disappear.

“We believe this is a really disastrous bill in so many regards,” said Garrett Blad with Indiana Sunrise Movement, a climate change political activism group.

The Trump administration got rid of federal regulations for these types of wetlands, so the current state law is the only thing preventing people from simply getting rid of wetlands on their property. Blad says it's vital for IDEM to keep its role in replacing wetlands.

“If there was a problem with the process of how this legislation is actually affecting people’s lives, then we should fix the process to make it fairer. We should actually be, in my view, compensating farmers for wetlands on their land so that they don’t have to destroy them,” said Blad.

Wetlands help prevent flooding by soaking up extra rainwater--Blad says it's a role we can't afford to lose in a changing climate.

"We are not gonna be as resilient and as prepared for this century where we are going to have a lot more floods," Blad said.

The Indiana Builder's Association says developers are cognizant of flooding risk and work to mitigate it. They're in favor of the bill and say less regulation can help make more affordable housing.

"The cost of regulations continue to rise and those costs have to be passed on to the end user, which is the home buyer," said their CEO Rick Wajda.

Wetlands also play a role of filtering water runoff from our roads before it hits rivers and aquifers.

One of the authors of the bill sent a statement saying it will have no effect on drinking water because isolated wetlands aren't connected to larger streams or regulated by the Army Corps of Engineers or the Environmental Protection Agency.

"The two previously mentioned agencies are responsible for drinking water quality and I want to see them continue this role as well as provide guidance for all Hoosiers to maintain the enjoyment of defined Wetlands in our state now and in the future," said state Senator Linda Rogers (R-Granger) in a statement.

Environmental activists also worry about preserving species that use wetlands as their habitat. Recent studies show isolated wetlands represent a considerable amount of the country's biodiversity.

The bill now heads to the Indiana House.

As it's written the bill strips all protection from isolated wetlands, but Senator Doriot says there's room for negotiation.

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"If the mitigation price was realistic I don’t think we would be visiting this," Doriot said.

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