Once again our state legislators are endorsing laws that cater to corporations while ignoring the public’s best interest. It’s nothing new, but this time it could cause permanent damage.

Senate Bill 389  – which strips state protections for wetlands – moved to the Indiana House of Representatives this week after passing the Senate. The bill is supported by the Indiana Builders Association and other construction lobbyists, according to the Indy Star, but the proposed law would strip requirements that protect endangered species and water quality.

Indiana lost nearly 84 percent of its wetlands to development by the late 1980s, according to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM). State officials say wetlands now cover just 4 percent of the state, although wetlands once covered 25 percent of it.

According to IDEM reports, 70 percent of Hoosiers rely on drinking water from aquifers, and wetlands filter pollutants and recharge the underground wells. Wetlands also act as a buffer to prevent flooding, something this region suffers from each year.

Interestingly, one co-author of this bill – Republican Andy Zay – represents Huntington, Wabash, Grant and Whitley counties, an area that has a history of flooding and water quality issues.

The town of Andrews in Huntington County is currently suffering from a tainted aquifer, and yet their representative is endorsing a bill that would further threaten that town’s access to clean drinking water.

Zay also represents constituents around two reservoirs that are designated as “impaired” by federal and state officials. The algal blooms that continue to plague Salamonie and J.E. Roush reservoirs each summer will likely grow larger, threatening recreation and enjoyment in those areas if wetlands are further destroyed.

Algal blooms, which secrete neurotoxins and cause foul-smelling water in the form of green slime, are fueled by nutrient runoff. The bill Zay co-authored would no longer require developers to seek permits for their development to ensure they mitigate any negative impacts to the environment, water quality and endangered species. The bill also halts prosecution for anyone who is currently facing charges for violating the law.

Either Zay is tone deaf to the wants and needs of his constituents, or he is endorsing bills that help the real estate industry. As the owner of Zay Leasing & Rentals, Inc., he has a conflict of interest by co-authoring this bill and voting to approve it this week.

Fishermen, farmers, recreationalists and people who live in rural Indiana will be harmed by this bill if it is passed because Indiana will see an increased risk for flooding events, drinking water issues and toxic algal blooms. Meanwhile, construction companies and lobbyists will profit off their destruction and in turn have more money to shovel into the Indiana Statehouse to grow their influence on our state legislature.

Indiana’s wetlands are a vital resource that’s already seen massive destruction. The degradation has already turned farm fields into lakes, washing away seed and destroying crops, and our reservoirs green with algae.

Many residents in this area enjoy seeing sandhill cranes and the resurgence of bald eagles, but if our reservoirs and wetlands are not protected, these majestic birds will likely roost elsewhere. Endangered species like the long-eared Indiana bat and water moccasin will lose vital habitat and food sources, further threatening their existence.

Right now, the state allows developers to proceed with projects on private lands that have wetlands. However, the current system makes them do it safely. Stripping these permitting requirements will only leave limited federal protection for a miniscule portion of our state’s wetlands.

Zay has already cast his vote, but the bill now heads to the Indiana House. It’s not too late to call your representative and lobby on behalf of the people, not corporations. Gov. Eric Holcomb has expressed concern about the bill, but he’s facing enormous pressure from his party.

It will take a statewide effort to stop this bill from passing, but if this bill is adopted, it will create irreversible damage to a system that protects the people in order to shovel money into corporations’ pockets.
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