By Sam Fry
INDIANAPOLIS – More than 60 different organizations, ranging from statewide environmental and conservation groups to hunting and fishing groups — and even the city of Angola — are calling on Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb to veto Senate Enrolled Act 389, a bill that would strip environmental protections from vast swaths of vulnerable Hoosier wetlands.
Members of the multi-organization grassroots effort delivered a signed letter to Holcomb on Monday urging him to veto the bill, which has been adopted in both the House and Senate and is now just one signature away from becoming law. Including individuals, the letter has more than 110 signatories.
Representatives from several of the bigger groups that signed on — The Nature Conservancy, Hoosier Environmental Council, The White River Alliance, and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers and Ducks Unlimited — held a joint virtual press conference Monday morning to detail the reasons for their opposition to the bill as well as amplify their call for Holcomb to veto it.
John Ketzenberger, director of government relations at The Nature Conservancy, described the situation the coalition is facing.
“This issue affects all corners of the state with repercussions for all residents and businesses and that’s why we come before you today,” he said. “As some of you know, I’ve followed the General Assembly for a long time and what I saw in the Senate Environmental Affairs Committee in January was really shocking.”
“Despite opposition from prominent Republicans, the Senate rammed the bill through within the week,” he continued, describing the fast-tracked legislation. “They didn’t even bother to hide their disdain for wetlands or the thoughtful or meaningful legislative process.”
Ketzenberger credited some Republicans in the House for at least slowing down the bill’s progress and trying to reach a meaningful compromise, but said the more than 90 organizations opposing the bill were mostly shut out of negotiations.
The finished product, he said, is flawed legislation that would do irreparable harm to Indiana’s wetlands.
“The rushed, exclusive nature of this process minimized the role of experts and ended with a bad Act; this is the Act we asked Gov. Holcomb to veto as soon as possible,” he said.
Indra Frank, director of environmental health and water policy at the Hoosier Environmental Council, said even though the House and Senate could override a Holcomb veto, refusing to sign the bill would give environmental advocates more time to talk with and educate legislators on the issue.
The bill was first introduced in the Senate in February. It was authored by three senators who are members of the Indiana Builders Association, an industry lobby whose members stand to benefit from reduced development costs if wetland protections are stripped.
The version of the bill that was passed by both legislative chambers would more than halve the number of wetlands protected by Indiana’s Isolated Wetlands Law, which has been in place since 2004.
Critics of the bill argue it would be disastrous and potentially lead to increased costs to taxpayers and farmers who would suffer from the damage that could be done to wetlands, which play a valuable role in helping absorb stormwater and replenish natural underground aquifers, among numerous other environmental benefits.
Proponents of the S.B. 389, including coauthor Sen. Chris Garten (R-Charlestown), argue the current version of the bill is an acceptable middle ground between a total repeal of Indiana’s wetlands protections and reducing development costs for developers.
Holcomb’s office is currently reviewing the bill. So far, his office hasn’t indicated whether the governor intends to sign or veto the bill.
This article was made available through the Hoosier State Press Association.