Sierran Masthead

Conservation Choices for 2004-Will We Make Progress?

By John Ulmer, Hoosier Chapter Conservation Chair

As 2003 comes to a close, it may be worth some reflection on where we are and on what our successes and setbacks were for the year. At first blush this would seem to be fairly easy to do. At first blush we are pretty well at the same place we were a year ago. Progress is being made, but only at what seems to be on a geologic time scale rather than the cyber-speed/sound bite time scale of today.

The Hoosier Chapter spent a major amount of time and resources in 2002 and 2003 on wetlands legislation. Many volunteer hours in meetings and hearings yielded some legislation that we could minimally support to protect wetlands from wholesale destruction.

Unfortunately the House environmental committee declined to hear the Senate's bill, so the Senate environmental committee stripped all the language from the House bill and inserted their own. Just as children who don't play well together, neither legislative body prevailed, and the resources needed by all children, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, grandparents and others lost.

"Wetlands protection" language, which excluded all small wetlands and allowed "incidental" fill in others-until over time they disappeared-showed up on the last day of the session in a conference committee on storm water rules. Please note that all of this was done by the legislators who were voted into office.

The environmental committees of the House and Senate are more concerned about protecting business, industry, and agriculture from reasonable regulations than protecting our air, water, natural resources, and future generations that have no voice in the political process.

Governor O'Bannon vetoed this bill and others at the end of the legislative session. In the veto the governor created a commission to study the wetlands issue. The commission has met only once (as of Nov. 1), spent that meeting getting organized and hearing complaints from legislators that not enough business interests were represented. (The Farm Bureau, state Chamber of Commerce, Indiana Manufactures Association, Indiana Builders Association, the coal industry, and others were present at the initial meeting.) The status of wetland legislation? Since the next session of the legislature will have begun by the time you read this, you can pick from one of the following to answer the question: a) veto overridden-isolated wetlands will be destroyed; b) veto upheld-not a chance; c) wetlands study commission issues a report-maybe if they meet again; d) new legislation to redefine "waters of the state" to dilute the Indiana Department of Environmental Management's regulatory authority-probable.

It would be good if wetlands were the only environmental issue. Unfortunately problems abound, mostly due to funding/staffing and legislative intransigence.

The Indiana Heritage Trust and Clean Water Indiana are just a few of the programs that look good but are ineffective due to lack of funds. Rules to regulate Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) are glacially moving through the rules process as the Indiana Department of Environmental Management continues to issue press releases that usually start with "After repeated notices of spills and violations." (How many times can you break the law before it really counts?) It has been stated, by the agriculture community, that CAFOs do not have an odor problem because no air standards regulate them.

To have a good business environment implies that we first need a good environment. With most metropolitan areas in the state at or near failing the ozone air quality standards, over 400 water bodies listed as impaired, fish consumption advisories on most streams and lakes, and above-average cancer rates for children and adults, what business would want to locate here? Why would they, unless they want to take advantage of weak environmental regulations? (It is worth noting that Indiana has the eighth highest rate of young, single, college-educated folks leaving the state in the nation, according to "Migration of the Young, Single, and College Educated: 1995-2000" Census Special Report, CENSR-12.)

When will the parochial business, ag, and industrial interests at the legislature understand that a healthy environment, leads to a higher quality of life which has a positive economic impact?

So, where are we at the end of 2003 in our work on Indiana's environment? As I said at the start, pretty much the same place we were at the end of 2002.

We need legislators on the environmental committees in the Senate and House who are concerned with improving and protecting Indiana's natural resources rather than protecting business interests from environmental regulations. We need your voice and vote to improve the legislative environment now and for future generations who can't vote for issues that will directly affect them.

The choice is yours and mine, to vote or not, to improve the environment or just let it slide.

Copyright © 2007 Hoosier Chapter Sierra Club, all rights reserved.[12/04/03]efp

Winter 2004