Sen. Ellman, Rep. Moeller, Community Advocates Announce Legislation to Protect Illinois Wetlands After U.S. Supreme Court Overreach

(Springfield, IL) – Today, Illinois Senator Laura Ellman (District 21) and State Representative Anna Moeller (District 43) joined forces with community advocates to announce the “Wetlands and Small Stream Protection Act” – new legislation protecting Illinois waters in the wake of a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that rolled back crucial federal safeguards in the Clean Water Act.

Illinois law does not currently include a comprehensive program to safeguard waters and wetlands that are now no longer federally protected, leaving the few remaining Illinois wetlands vulnerable to development. In their May 2023 Sackett v. EPA decision, the Court left protections up to the states, prompting Sen. Ellman and Rep. Moeller to introduce SB3669 and HB5386.

“These state-level protections are absolutely necessary to safeguard our waterways and wetlands as they play a critical role in the health and wellbeing of all Illinois communities, and doing so also happens to be incredibly popular in Illinois,” said Illinois Sen. Laura Ellman. “Nearly 80 percent of Illinoisans support protections for outdoor areas, including wetlands, prairies, and forests. I look forward to working with my colleagues to pass this important legislation in the coming months.”

Wetlands act as nature’s sponges, providing important flood control, preserving endangered habitats, and protecting clean drinking water. A surprising 90% of Illinois wetlands have already been destroyed. As climate change continues increasing extreme weather, we rely more on climate-resilient landscapes like wetlands.

“We can’t afford to lose the protection wetlands provide,” said Illinois Rep. Anna Moeller. “Clean drinking water, flood protection and other wetland benefits are simply not negotiable – they are necessary for all of us. I’m proud to sponsor this legislation in the House this spring.”

“We know how slowly things move in Washington, so Illinois can’t afford to wait for the wheels to turn in Congress,” said Paul Botts, president and executive director of The Wetlands Initiative. “The Supreme Court placed the question of wetlands protections squarely within the jurisdiction of the states, and this bill simply allows Illinois to step up and fill the gap in protections created by the Court.”

The absence of wetlands protections will lead to damaged waterways and wetlands, increasing flooding, soil erosion, drought, and vulnerabilities to our drinking water supply. Moreover, it poses significant threats to Illinois’ agriculture sector and the outdoor economy.

When enacted, this legislation will reinstate vital protections for Illinois wetlands, creating a long-term Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) program to protect our state waters by:

  • requiring that wetland developers apply to IDNR for a permit before destroying the wetlands and small streams on which the Supreme Court has now declared an open season,

  • requiring avoiding wetlands destruction to the extent possible and compensating for the losses that their activity would have on floodwater retention, water quality, and wildlife,

  • allowing the Illinois counties that have good wetlands protection programs to continue their good work, and

  • charging applicants a modest fee that would help pay for the program.

“We must protect our wetlands, which help filter and purify our water, in turn protecting us from pollutants and contaminants making their way into our water supply,” said Dr. Rebecca Vortman, Clinical Assistant Professor, University of Illinois Chicago College of Nursing. “Legislation designed to restore protection to Illinois’ wetlands is good legislation for the right reason– to ensure that water remains a source of life, not sickness.”

“As a first-time homeowner in 2016, I’ve had my possessions destroyed by a 100-year flood, and sadly, with climate change, many of our neighbors throughout Illinois have their belongings flooded annually, uprooting their lives,” said Celeste Flores, political director with Mano a Mano and co-chair Clean Power Lake County. “Our state legislators must step up now that the Supreme Court has failed Illinoisans. We have the solution and must act in this legislative session.”

“I’ve hunted, fished and gone on numerous bird-watching explorations in Illinois wetlands, which include marshes, swamps, bogs and fens, that are critical for migratory birds and wildlife because of their location within the Mississippi River Flyway,” said Eliha Perez an Illinois outdoorsman and naturalist. “The outdoor economy in Illinois supports thousands and thousands of jobs and has an economic impact worth billions of dollars.”

“We owe it to ourselves, the nearby communities, and future generations to do something about this growing flooding problem,” said Jess Whiston, the owner and operator of Terripin Farms in Quincy, Illinois who experienced flooding firsthand. “From where I’m standing, this is one of those times where the smart thing to do and the right to do are one in the same. Passing the “Wetlands and Small Stream Protection Act” is simply a no-brainer.”

“Illinois and other states must step up to fill the gap for protecting vital wetlands and community waterways after the Supreme Court’s misguided Sackett decision tied the hands of the federal government to perform its water quality protection responsibilities,” said Environmental Law and Policy Center Executive Director Howard Learner. “We’re pleased that this important Illinois wetlands protection legislation is gaining support and moving forward to passage this year.”


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