UPDATED: A gutted bill that would now allow any developers to build on isolated wetlands was referred to the House rules committee after passing in the Senate on Thursday.
Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Greensboro Democrat, called the move "rare good news" in a tweet.
Republicans deleted all provisions in House Bill 938, which allowed for more flexibility to give compensation for impacting wetlands. Then they amended the emptied bill to say developers wouldn’t need permits in order to do construction in isolated wetlands, which are land areas saturated with water that aren’t connected above ground to large bodies of water. It passed the Senate in a 27-15 vote.
This measure, opposed by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, was previously included in a “farm bill,” but was cut out before the farm bill passed. Now it's back.
Isolated wetlands aren't protected by the Clean Water Act. The measure already exists in federal law, said Sen. Brent Jackson, an Autryville Republican and the bill's sponsor.
Wetlands connected to bodies of water above ground will still be protected. However, isolated wetlands are just as important to the ecosystem and deserve protection, said Sierra Club lobbyist Cassie Gavin. They are connected to other bodies of water, too, but underground.
"Isolated wetland is a non-scientific term," Gavin said. It doesn't apply in the scientific community.
The bill would eliminate protections on these wetlands, opening them up for construction of sewer system, bridges, roads, buildings and other structures. Waste would also be allowed to enter those wetlands.
The bill aims to make wetlands more functional by allowing increased development.