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U.S. Supreme Court decision will end federal protections for most Indiana wetlands

Indiana is home to more than 800,000 acres of wetlands, or about 3.5 percent of the state
Indiana Wetlands.JPG
Posted at 11:05 AM, May 26, 2023

INDIANAPOLIS — The U.S. Supreme Court has handed down a decision that will effectively remove federal protections for most of Indiana wetlands.

The nation’s highest court sided with Idaho property owners in its ruling this week, which rolls back federal safeguards for wetlands under the Clean Water Act.

Indiana is home to more than 800,000 acres of wetlands, or about 3.5 percent of the state.

Currently, about 80 percent of Indiana’s wetlands have federal protection, but that is expected to drop to 20 percent now that the Supreme Court ruled against the EPA.

Indra Frank, Director of Environmental Health and Water Policy for the Hoosier Environmental Council, said the decision will have a huge impact on flooding and drinking water in Indiana.

“This decision means the majority of Indiana wetlands will not be protected under current federal law and we don’t have very good protections under state law unfortunately,” said Frank. “We are disappointed. Our wetlands are a crucial part of having healthy rivers, healthy lakes, and safe drinking water.”

Wetlands serve an important purpose—they alleviate flooding, purify water, recharge aquifers, and provide a habitat for half of Indiana species with small or declining populations, according to the Indiana DNR.

Some wetlands are already protected by city parks or trusts like the Central Indiana Land Trust, which means no one can build a road or a building on it, or turn it into farmland.

However, many Indiana wetlands rely on federal protection.

Frank says you could see a loss of wildlife and see more flooding in your community as a result.

“Wetlands are a crucial part of Indiana’s water resources,” said Frank. “They catch and hold excess stormwater, and they’re like giant sponges on the landscape so they help reduce flooding.”

Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita applauded the Supreme Court ruling in a Facebook post.

“This is great news for farmers and property owners in our state!” read a Facebook post by Attorney General Todd Rokita. “The Supreme Court’s ruling will protect Hoosiers’ jobs, property, and freedom from the Biden admin’s excessive regulations.”

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, writing for a five-justice majority, said the existing federal standard is too broad, too difficult to enforce and too "precarious" for property owners.

Frank said Congress could now step in and make changes to the Clean Water Act.

The Hoosier Environmental Council plans to push the Indiana legislature to take action.

“The states of course have their own option of writing their own laws for wetland protection,” said Frank. “We will continue to raise awareness with the public and elected officials about the value of Indiana’s remaining wetlands.”

In 2021, Indiana passed a law that removed some state protections for wetlands despite more than 100 groups who signed a letter asking the Governor to veto it.

"The argument is that if I own a property with a wetland on it, I should be able to do whatever I want,” said Frank.

One of the bill’s biggest supporters, the Indiana Builders Association, said, “regulations at the federal, state and local level now account for roughly 25% of the cost of a house."

WRTV has reached out to IBA about the decision, and they are still reviewing it.

Indra Frank says the SCOTUS decision comes at a crucial time as researchers say Indiana receives 5.5 inches more of precipitation than it did a year ago.

“We're on track to increase another 6 to 8 percent,” said Frank. “We are receiving more water than ever, and more if it is arriving in extra heavy storms. We actually need our wetlands now more than ever. "