Sierran Masthead

Conservation Chaos and Confusion Run Through Legislature

John Ulmer, Hoosier Chapter Conservation Chair

As the latest session of the Indiana legislature came to an end, chaos and confusion muddied the waters in wetlands and polluted the water downstream of current and planned Confined Animal Feeding Operations. Those are about all the metaphors I can work into this one sad but true sentence.


The Hoosier Chapter worked many months with other environmental groups, utilities, agriculture representatives, and others to attempt to come up with positive legislation that would protect and enhance our wetland inventory.

Key phrases throughout this discussion were the need to “avoid,” “minimize,” and “mitigate” impact on wetlands and to have a policy of “no net loss” of wetlands and a “net gain of high-quality wetlands.” Also included was “restoration” of a destroyed wetland rather than the construction of a new one.

These ideas were carried through in the final report of Environmental Quality Service Council, which addressed environmental and natural resource issues so that rational bills were introduced.

While not ideal, it looked like the state was on the way to setting into law a policy that would yield protection to all wetlands that were no longer protected under the Clean Water Act.

Simply put, through a lot of politics, the original House bill, which was better than the original Senate bill, was amended into another bill in the House, passed the House, but was stripped of its language in the Senate with Senate language replacing it. The Senate bill was never heard in committee in the House so it died. Confusing? The bottom line: The members of both the Senate and House environmental committees showed little regard for the quality of the environment in Indiana.

While it appeared there would be no wetlands legislation this session, suddenly bits and pieces of the most objectionable language from both bills emerged at the last minute in a bill on storm water management, HB1798. The bill is definitionally deficient and filled with enough contradictions that no isolated wetland in the state is protected from being filled.

The bill was vetoed by the Governor. Now we need to gain enough support to uphold the veto—a challenging task. Since the House and Senate ignored the work of the Environmental Quality Service Council (a body mandated by the legislature by the way), the Governor is establishing a commission to create a reasonable wetland policy.

Confined Animal Feeding Operations

A court ruling, favorable to the environment, forced the Indiana Department of Environmental Management to actually issue permits to Confined Animal Feeding Operations or CAFOs that had a history of spills and violations. While this change in rules was proceeding before the Water Pollution Control Board, Senate Bill 533 (introduced by a legislator who is a hog farmer), which limits IDEM’s authority in overseeing the plans for construction of CAFOs, passed the legislature.

The Farm Bureau and other trade associations supported this legislation while remaining silent in word and deed on such operations as Pohlman Hog Farms, which is finally being closed by the state after decades of repeated spills and fish kills. Go figure.

In addition, this bill eliminates public notice and the right to participate in initial hearings. So a CAFO can be planned and constructed next to you and the first opportunity you have to be heard is at the time an operational permit is issued.

While all this was going on, IDEM presented an “emergency rule” to the Water Pollution Control Board so that it would be in compliance with the court order regarding the permit procedure for CAFOs. Again, an amendment was offered so that people nearby who would be/are affected by a CAFO’s operation, and any spills it may have, could be notified and participate in the public hearing of the permit. The amendment to let the public know what was going on failed to pass by a vote of 5 to 4.

Both board members representing the administration (the Department of Natural Resources and State Board of Health) voted against public involvement in the process. Their two votes carried the day.

Confusion, chaos? You bet! In his veto of SB533 Governor O’Bannon wrote, “The public expects the opportunity to fully participate in such an approval process.” Obviously the folks at DNR and the Board of Health must have missed a meeting, memo, or both.

Your Help Is Needed

What is needed? Your help. First to face these challenges the chapter needs to be stronger both locally and at the state level. As always we can use more funds to support our campaigns, but more importantly we need your voice and support.

The poor legislation above might have been avoided if we had more of the nearly 8,000 Sierra Club members in the state contacting their legislators. It is not practical to ask for this support by mail, and it is expensive and time-consuming to telephone everyone.

Our most effective tool is e-mail, but we have less than 10 percent of our members’ e-mail addresses.

Please, take a moment and send a short message to so that we can update your e-mail address (remember to include your name so we can find you in the database). This will help us keep you up to date events in your area and important legislative matters, including how much your senator or representative wants to improve Indiana’s environment.

Second, contact your legislator and find out how he or she voted on SB533 and HB1798, and why. Let them know your disappointment in the lack of leadership in protecting Indiana’s environment—a valuable economic resource! Urge your legislators to support the Governor’s vetoes when the legislature meets June 19 and will probably attempt to override the vetoes.

Finally, become more informed on your legislator’s positions so that you can vote responsibly in their election next year.

Copyright © 2007 Hoosier Chapter Sierra Club, all rights reserved.[05/31/03]efp

Summer 2003