IN Brief

Holcomb signs first bill of 2024, rolls back wetlands protections

By: - February 12, 2024 5:00 pm

Gov. Eric Holcomb signed the first bill of 2024: a measure further reducing a protected class of wetlands. (Photo from Indiana Department of Environmental Management)

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb signed the first bill to hit his desk in the 2024 legislative session: one further eroding wetlands protections by redefining certain, protected wetlands to a less regulated class.

The bill, House Enrolled Act 1383, goes into effect July 1.

Indiana’s wetlands are grouped into three tiers by the state. Only the highest ranked Class III wetlands receive full protections. Class II wetlands have fewer protections, and Class I has none. That system went into effect in 2022. The 2024 bill would redefine select Class III wetlands as Class II.

Builders and developers roundly applauded the new measure, saying it would reduce costs and prevent permitting delays. Environmental advocates decried the measure for endangering state’s wetlands.

The Hoosier Environmental Council contends that — since the 2022 law took effect — 75% of the wetland acres impacted by construction have been lost with no mitigation or replacement of their lost function.

Compounding that loss of wetland protections, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2023 that federal protections for wetlands under the Clean Water Act only apply to those with a continuous surface connection to federally protected waterways that make them “indistinguishable” from those waters.

Environmental groups and experts note that wetlands are vital for soaking up excess nutrients in soil — especially elements like nitrogen and phosphorus, which are common ingredients in fertilizer that can leach from farmland — and preventing them from creating problems elsewhere.

Wetlands also catch and hold excess stormwater, reducing flooding on that landscape. Additionally, they help cleanse underground aquifers. That’s important, given that about 70% of Indiana residents rely on groundwater for at least part of their drinking water supply, according to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

The bill moved on a 64-30 vote in the House on Jan. 23 followed by a 32-17 vote in the Senate on Feb. 6, both with bipartisan opposition. No other bills have advanced as rapidly and Holcomb has no other legislation to consider.

Casey Smith contributed to this story.

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Whitney Downard
Whitney Downard

A native of upstate New York, Whitney previously covered statehouse politics for CNHI’s nine Indiana papers, focusing on long-term healthcare facilities and local government. Prior to her foray into Indiana politics, she worked as a general assignment reporter for The Meridian Star in Meridian, Mississippi. Whitney is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University (#GoBonnies!), a community theater enthusiast and cat mom.

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