endangers wetlands protection law
The Indianapolis Star
By Tammy Webber
An almost yearlong effort to craft a law protecting Indiana's
most vulnerable wetlands is in danger of going down the
drain unless a bipartisan committee can work out a last-minute
The chairman of the House Environmental Affairs Committee
has refused to hear a wetlands bill passed by the Senate,
saying there is not enough time to sift through the detailed
and lengthy document. And the head of the Senate Environment
Committee has stripped wetlands language from a House
bill, calling it a "hodgepodge without any thought
The moves have frustrated environmentalists, farmers
and developers who, in a rare show of cooperation, worked
with lawmakers last summer and fall to find middle ground
that could form the basis of a wetlands protection law.
"The existing system is broken," said Bill
Beranek, president of the nonprofit Indiana Environmental
Institute. "Uncertainty is bad for environmental
quality, and it's bad for economic development."
At stake is the ability of state environmental officials
to protect isolated wetlands -- those with no connection
to navigable waterways.
Indiana has no law protecting its wetlands. Today, 85
percent of the state's original wetlands are gone and,
of the estimated 813,000 acres remaining, about one-third
Isolated wetlands provide breeding areas for waterfowl
and habitats for plants and animals; they also filter
groundwater and control flooding. But they sometimes stand
in the way of millions of dollars in housing and business
The Environmental Quality Service Council, a panel of
lawmakers that meets in the summer to consider possible
laws, voted unanimously last fall to recommend legislation
regulating wetlands and called for a net gain in high-quality
This year, versions were introduced in the Senate and
Sen. Beverly Gard, R-Greenfield, author of Senate Bill
491 and head of the Senate Environment Committee, said
the House proposal would have exempted too many wetlands
from protection, and she didn't like its provision calling
for wetlands banking -- allowing developers to build new
wetlands elsewhere in place of those that are filled.
House Environmental Affairs Committee Chairman James
Bottorff, D-Jeffersonville, who sponsored House Bill 1221,
said there was not enough time to read and vote on Gard's
"very detailed bill."
Now the only hope for passing a wetlands law this year
is if language is inserted in another bill when lawmakers
meet in conference committee. Legislative leaders have
said they hope to adjourn for the year by April 24.
Gard and Bottorff said they hope to work something out.
But environmentalists say neither bill offers enough
protection for the smallest wetlands, some of which are
less than an acre. And they say a law is needed to establish
clear lines of jurisdiction.
The Indiana Department of Environmental Management has
tried to regulate isolated wetlands under the federal
Clean Water Act. But in 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled
that the federal government had no jurisdiction over isolated
wetlands -- leaving the state also without jurisdiction.
"There is some real uncertainty here, which is why
our approach was to get a good bill to help strengthen
and affirm the state's authority," said Tim Maloney,
executive director of the Hoosier Environmental Council.
If the state does not resolve the issue, Indiana risks
losing developers to other states, said Orrin Sessions,
vice chairman of the Indiana Association of Home Builders'
land development committee.
"We need the ground rules, the environmentalists
need them, and IDEM needs them," he said.