Leave wetlands veto alone
Fort Wayne Journal Gazette
The late Gov. Frank O'Bannon's veto of a severely flawed
wetlands regulation bill was the right decision in May
and remains so today. The General Assembly should reject
efforts to override it.
An override would be a major step backward in protecting
state wetlands, 85 percent of which have already disappeared.
Much of the remainder would be subject to drainage, filling
and unrestricted discharges of pollutants under Senate
O'Bannon described the legislation as "unsatisfactory,
even as a starting place for state regulation." His
veto included an order creating a task force led by the
heads of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management
and Indiana Department of Natural Resources to make new
recommendations to the General Assembly for 2004.
Unfortunately, the task force failed to deliver. In the
meantime, environmental groups fear supporters of the
bill in the House will try to revive it.
The bill sprang from a U.S. Supreme Court decision that
stripped the federal government of authority to regulate
isolated wetlands - defined as pools, bogs and other swampy
areas with no surface connection to lakes, streams and
other navigable waters. Such areas constitute about a
third of the state's remaining wetlands.
IDEM tried to take over wetland regulation from the federal
government. But a lawsuit filed by an Allen County developer
stopped the agency from doing so. An Indiana Supreme Court
decision reversed the lower court ruling late last year
and upheld IDEM's authority to regulate isolated wetlands.
The list of environmental damage that would accompany
further loss of wetlands includes more flooding, pollution,
and mosquitoes capable of bearing West Nile virus. Wetlands
help limit such problems by serving as sponges for excessive
water and serving as habitats for animals that feed on
Sen. Beverly Gard, R-Greenfield, a supporter of the legislation,
has defended it as "a balance between protecting
valuable isolated wetlands, recognizing the role of local
government in land use planning and recognizing private
The rate at which wetlands have been disappearing in
Indiana suggests that private property owners had all
the rights they needed without the legislation. In some
parts of the country, environmental regulations are blamed
for raising the cost of housing by imposing too many barriers
to new construction. Indiana has plenty of affordable
housing; the same cannot be said about wetlands.
The General Assembly should reject any attempt at a veto
override. Gov. Joe Kernan can help clarify the state's
role in regulating wetlands by demanding more action from
the task force appointed by O'Bannon.
Wetlands are crucial to the state's environment. They
need more, not less, protection from development.