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Attack on Indiana’s wetlands led by state reps who own construction companies

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Indiana Senate Bill 389, which is in line for consideration in the state’s House of Representatives, threatens to repeal all of Indiana’s protection on wetlands. Passed the Senate on Feb. 1, the bill follows one of the Trump administration’s last acts: massive deregulation of federal wetlands.

Since 2003, Indiana has defined wetlands as including bogs, marshes, swamps, and ephemeral streams, like the federal government did before President Trump amended the definition. This classification means that anybody developing an area that would affect a wetland must get a permit for wetland activity, prior approval of the project from the state, and must remediate any damages done to the wetland until the ecosystem is back to its original state. SB 389 aims to completely remove these mild regulations: no permits or prior approval will be required, ephemeral streams will no longer be considered wetlands, and it broadens the definition of “isolated wetlands,” which are excluded from all regulation. Essentially, any wetlands on private property will lose all protection, and even state-owned wetlands will lose some of their coverage as well.

If this bill succeeds, it will be disastrous not just for wildlife, but for people as well. Wetlands are the keystone of the water cycle. They act as natural pollution filters, divert or absorb excess water during floods, and play an important role in recharging depleted aquifers. These services, provided for free by nature, play a silent but crucial role in the lives of every Hoosier. People in rural areas are especially at risk due to their reliance on well water. Furthermore, flood protection is increasingly necessary as climate change makes Indiana rainier and more prone to floods.

Capitalist politicians lead the charge

Despite our dependence on wetlands, Indiana’s lawmakers are still unsatisfied with the already scant protections currently in place. Simply put, nature’s freely supplied services don’t generate profit for capitalists. In fact, the capitalists themselves are in charge, as all three original coauthors of the bill own companies in the construction industry: Chris Garten (Scottsburg), Mark Messmer (Jasper), and Linda Rogers (Granger).

In fact, Sen. Garten even admitted during a committee meeting that this bill is motivated by the housing market. He masked this intent by feigning concern about keeping housing cheap to increase homeownership in our state, saying, “I have sincere concerns that we are driving up the cost of building and development exponentially to a level that is preventing Hoosiers from owning a home.” 

This is a good effort to seem nice, but his voting record betrays him. He doesn’t care about housing rights. For example, in March last year, just as the pandemic was beginning to spread in the U.S., he voted for what is now Senate Enrolled Act 148, which blocked cities like Indianapolis and Bloomington from enforcing their municipal tenants’ rights laws. This bill was vetoed by Governor Eric Holcomb in 2020, but was recently overridden by the General Assembly this session.

Not only is Garten deceptive about his motives, he’s also incorrect that more houses need to be built to avoid high prices caused by housing scarcity. In the most recent Census Bureau estimate, Indiana has almost three million housing units total, and more than 30% of those homes are vacant—that’s nearly a million vacant homes. Every unhoused person in the state could immediately be given their own house to live in and there would still be vacant homes to fill. The housing crisis is not caused by high demand or low supply, it is caused purposefully by people like Garten, Messmer, and Rogers. The problem isn’t about housing, but instead about construction moguls who would rather bulldoze the last remaining wetlands than stop their cash flow.

SB 389 has friends in the House as well. The chair of the House Environmental Affairs Committee, Doug Gutwein (Francesville), a cosponsor of SB 389, has refused to convene his committee at all this year, allowing 13 bills to die in committee without a hearing. One important bill killed by Gutwein’s inaction was HB 1045, which would’ve required preschools to test for lead in their drinking water after it was revealed last year that more than half of Marion County schools tested above legal limits.

Fight back on March 19!

At the beginning of statehood, Indiana had 5.6 million acres of wetlands, and under a million acres are left today; all lost to farms and pavement, a carpet of capitalism. For the same reason, Indiana also suffers more toxic spills per square mile than any other state. Now, it is imperative that what we have left is protected. Right now, before the House passes the bill too, is the time for Hoosiers to stand up for what’s left of our beautiful and sorely needed wetlands.

The people are fighting back. On Friday, March 19 the Confront the Climate Crisis is organizing a protest at the Indiana Statehouse. The Socialist Climate Initiative of Indiana will be present to demand an end to attacks on Indiana’s wetlands, climate, and working and oppressed classes!