The Lake Shafer and Lake Freeman area is home to more than 5,000 great people and businesses who are my friends and neighbors. I have been proud to represent them over the years as congressman and secretary of state.
I spent many summers on Lake Shafer. As everyone knows, we have suffered in recent years because of overreaching government regulations that have put the well-being of freshwater mussels over the economic health and safety of the community.
In 2012, I was made aware of this dispute over the water levels in Lake Freeman and Lake Shafer and began working on solutions. By diverting water from the lake to the Tippecanoe River to sustain the mussel population, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service took steps that have caused extensive hardship to Lake Freeman and the Monticello community.
I immediately urged FWS to reconsider its water levels mandate in order to protect the small businesses and tourism industry that has helped Monticello thrive.
Through subsequent meetings with stakeholders, the community, the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee, and decision makers at the federal and state level, we continued to push for a fair and sensible solution.
Those actions led to important progress, such as FWS redefining their natural flow gauge during dry periods and moving the Delphi Gauge closer to Oakdale Dam, which has provided more accurate water level measurements.
I also worked with Northern Indiana Public Service Company to create better notification standards for residents and businesses along the lakes.
These changes have helped the Lake Freeman community since 2014. But while FWS’s Technical Assistance Letter moved away from enforcing an arbitrary standard, it was not a permanent solution. Homeowners and businesses still have the value of their property — and in many cases, their livelihoods — at risk.
That is why I have continued to work this issue and push for a long-term solution. Last Congress, I offered an amendment to prohibit funding for FWS enforcement of the Endangered Species Act with respect to the freshwater mussels. These kinds of amendments, or “riders,” can be attached to annual spending bills, called appropriations. This makes their use a valuable tool to get past “The Swamp’s” bureaucrats and radical environmental special interest groups.
I was able to convince my House colleagues that there is no evidence suggesting that temporarily limiting enforcement would harm mussels, and that the outdated recovery plan should not outweigh the safety or stability of the community.
My amendment was adopted by the House. Unfortunately, Congress too often puts politics before the American people and ignores the regular appropriations process in favor of one massive spending bill. As a result, the bill with my amendment was discarded.
More recently, and at the behest of local leaders, I sent a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) asking that it rehear its order to NIPSCO on adopting FWS’s water level mandate. FERC sided with FWS against its own previous judgment that a fair alternative would work better.
It did this because of the ESA. I have always feared that proceedings at FERC would not prevail because the ESA carries criminal penalties — it’s the stronger law to which decision-makers will undoubtedly defer.
The simple fact of the matter is that the ESA, signed into law in 1973 and which has not been updated in more than 40 years, gives FWS nearly unilateral power. The law’s draconian requirements, by design, intentionally put the interests of animals and plants above any human interests. That is its purpose.
Furthermore, the ESA has no accountability to ensure the recovery plan and delisting process are followed.
The ESA needs to be reformed, as this is the only long-term solution to provide real, permanent relief for Lake Freeman. When Congress passed the ESA in 1973, only one Hoosier opposed it: Congressman Earl Landgrebe, who represented Monticello in what was then the Second District. Given the problem Monticello is having with the ESA, he would feel vindicated.
Radical environmentalists who prioritize their whims over any and all other interests have caused this problem.
Recently, with my support, the Trump administration proposed common sense reforms to the law, including one that would allow the presentation of economic effects from listing decisions.
I have also joined dozens of my House colleagues supporting a series of bills that would modernize the ESA. These bills would refocus the law on its original intent and balance the interests of species with those of private citizens and state and local governments.
Most importantly, I will be introducing legislation to permanently remove these mussels from the endangered species list, which would greatly benefit Lake Freeman in its fight with FWS.
I value all of God’s creations, and as a conservative, believe that we have a duty to preserve nature. We cannot, however, let faulty evidence and Washington bureaucrats destroy our communities.
Unless we take action to reform the ESA, there will always be a chance that FWS will reduce water levels on the lake again.