Indiana legislature votes to strip protections for wetlands

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The first bill to make it out of the Indiana legislature this legislative session is drawing criticism from environmental advocates.

House Bill 1383 would de-regulate environmental protections by loosening the definition of a wetland and loosening regulations to develop on wetlands.

Supporters believe it could help spur economic development, like housing projects. 

According to the Indianapolis Star, the Hoosier State has already lost more than 85% of its wetlands in the last century. And following a 2021 bill stripping protections, more than 250 acres of wetlands have been lost.

Policy Director of Freshwater for conservation group Audubon Great Lakes, Brian Vigue, says every acre of wetland can hold upwards of one million gallons of water, meaning a lost wetland can create real risks for neighbors.

"When you take away that wetland protection without doing anything to help the communities downstream of those wetlands deal with the amount of water those wetlands held, it's a recipe for flooding," Vigue said.

Vigue claims environmental groups haven't been able to give input on the legislation and is asking Gov. Eric Holcomb to veto HB 1383.

"The time wasn't taken to really consider carefully what kind of impacts it would have around the state at different landscapes. I think the rushed process kind of skipped that over," Vigue said. "So really, we don't have an idea of exactly what kind of impact or what kind of communities will be flooded."

The bill is largely being pushed by Michiana lawmakers.

Republican State Rep. Doug Miller (IN-48), who represents Elkhart County, and Republican State Rep. Timothy Wesco (IN-21), who covers portions of Elkhart and St. Joseph Counties, are listed as co-authors on the bill. Republican State Sen. Blake Doriot (IN-12) of Elkhart County is a sponsor of the bill.

ABC57 News reached out to all three and have not heard back.

"Republicans' very first priority this session is to roll back wetland protections for their millionaire and billionaire friends,” Indiana Democratic Party Chair Mike Schmuhl said in a statement. “Hoosiers of all walks of life benefit from our wetlands. They are a natural flood prevention barrier for our properties, and help filter our groundwater – all for free."

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