Pyle's endangered species bill debated at South Buffalo hearing
By Mary Ann Thomas
Published: Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013, 1:46 a.m.
The state's top environmental officials urged state representatives to not gut the state's endangered species law during a rare joint House committee hearing.
The proposed legislation could come up for vote in the next several months, according to the bill's prime sponsor, Rep. Jeff Pyle, R-Ford City.
The hearing took place on Tuesday at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania campus in the Northpointe at Slate Lick business park in South Buffalo.
The proposed Endangered Species Coordination Act would remove the authority of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and the state Game Commission to exclusively designate endangered species in the state.
The act would add another layer of government, the state Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRRC), to help decide whether a bird, fish, reptile or other wildlife should be listed as threatened or endangered specifically in Pennsylvania.
Pyle said this was the second and likely the last hearing for the bill before the state's House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee and the House Game and Fisheries Committee.
Smarting from losing the dredging industry to the presence of endangered mussels in the Allegheny River, among other causes, Pyle said he is fighting for the economic interests of his economically beleaguered Armstrong County and other parts of the state.
He's been concerned about the state potentially listing the little brown bat as endangered and causing limitations to development and jobs.
Supporters of the legislation who submitted testimony included the Pennsylvania Coal Alliance, the Marcellus Shale Coalition and the Pennsylvania Builders Association.
Issues debated during Tuesday's hearing included:
• Whether the proposed legislation could cause the state's Fish and Boat Commission and the Game Commission to lose a significant amount of federal funding.
• Whether the loss of a state endangered species status could potentially cause more federal control of what is protected in the state.
• How available should information be as to where endangered species are located. Businesses would save time and money if they knew more about endangered species presence in a given area. But if some of the more detailed information was made public, poachers could start killing endangered animals.
• Whether revoking the state's role in declaring and protecting endangered species could violate the state constitution.
• Verification of expertise for studies and surveys leading up to listing of endangered species.
However, what is not debatable is that no matter what the state decides, it won't change the protections for federal endangered and threatened species in the state.
Support and opposition of the bill included testimonies from industry and environmental groups.
Darrel Lewis, of the Allegheny Mineral Corp. in Kittanning, who took issue with the required wildlife surveys for endangered and threatened species: “The financial investment for those surveys is considerable, and it appears that serves no other purpose than to test the resolve of the company to bring good-paying jobs and benefits to communities seeking a steady employer.”
George Jugovic, Jr., chief counsel for the Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future or PennFuture, pointed out that the issue is not about saving a “pretty plant or a fuzzy critter.”
Jugovic brought his group's message home by referring to a recent case of a Pennsylvania woman dying of West Nile virus, which is carried by mosquitoes.
“A brown bat will eat a thousand mosquitoes a night,” he said.
“This is not about preserving the brown bat,” Jugovic said, “but preserving its relations to other animals.”
Jugovic and other environmentalists have stressed that the new bill would inappropriately bring politics and economics into deciding whether an animal should be listed as endangered.
Both executive directors of the Fish and Boat Commission and the Game Commission countered that it is the state Department of Environmental Protection that issues permits. And that's where economic and other considerations can be made.
But others took issue with some of the ambiguities of the current state law and what geographic areas are protected if state-listed endangered species are present.
“How do we decide how much habitat is enough?” asked Rep. Bryan Barbin, D-Cambria.
Mary Ann Thomas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4691 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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