Pyle's endangered species bill spurs South Buffalo debate
SOUTH BUFFALO — Testimony about a state House bill that could affect laws protecting endangered species across the state was considered during a joint hearing of the House Game and Fisheries Committee and House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee at Indiana University of Pennsylvania's Northpointe campus Tuesday.
The proposed Endangered Species Coordination Act, House Bill 1576, seeks to subject the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and the Game Commission to oversight by the Independent Regulatory Review Commission.
It would allow IRRC to add or remove species from a list of threatened or endangered species.
Rep. Jeff Pyle, R-Ford City, is a sponsor of the bill, which has received support from interests including the Marcellus Shale Coalition, the coal industry and the Pennsylvania Builders Association.
Kittanning-based businessman Darrel Lewis of the Allegheny Mineral Corp. and Pennsylvania Aggregates and Concrete Association said he supports the bill, which “sets out a consistent framework for regulators and those who are regulated.”
He said time frames for studies of endangered or threatened species can cause major delays in development plans. With the delisting procedure, Lewis said, “this bill would eliminate those as an item to be considered in the process.”
Those opposing the bill argue it would shift the burden of proof to the Game Commission and Fish and Boat Commission and tip the scale in favor of economic development at the risk of undermining efforts to protect endangered species and their habitats.
“It would reverse 40 years of conservation efforts,” said John Arway, executive director of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.
“Economics and politics shouldn't factor into whether a species is endangered,” Arway said.
George Jugovic Jr., general counsel of Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future (PennFuture), said his organization has the support of sportsmen and sportswomen in protecting native plants and wildlife in the state.
“We understand these are difficult decisions, and it's tempting to interject politics into the issue,” he said, but “streams, plants and animals do not vote.”
He urged state representatives to consider that the issue is not about protecting the last bat or the last salamander but that it's about the interdependence of all species and protecting habitat.
“Habitat destruction is the single biggest reason for species loss or extinction,” Jugovic said.
Arway argued that the effects of the act would be uncertain and that the language contained in it could be read from a variety of perspectives.
Pyle questioned Arway about how the habitat buffer range of an endangered species is determined.
It's not a cookie-cutter approach, Arway said.
“Some circles vary depending on the species,” he said. “A plant can't move, and a fish can swim farther than a turtle can roam.”
Pyle has taken issue in the past with the $61,000 bill Armstrong School District had to pay for a study to determine whether endangered bats lived on the site of a high school being built in Manor Township.
However, it was clarified during Tuesday's discussion that that was a federal requirement and would not have been affected by his legislation.
Pyle noted that he lives near Lock and Dam 6 pool on the Allegheny River, where dredging has ceased because a variety of rare mussels live there.
He pointed out that since big manufacturing industries like Pittsburgh Plate Glass Co. have left, the area is economically depressed, and the old PPG site could benefit from Marcellus shale drilling, but that “a bazillion bats” can be seen coming out of the building to feed at dusk.
He asked how big the buffer zone circle would be to protect those bats.
“The circle hasn't been established,” said Carl Roe, executive director of the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
“You're proposing theoretical scenarios,” he said.
Pyle told the members of the Game Commission and Fish and Boat Commission and those opposing the legislation: “If you remove our ability to log, mine and drill, you're kicking us in the teeth.”
“What you call politicizing, I call protecting another species: homo sapiens,” said Pyle.
Chairman of the House Game and Fisheries Committee, Rep. Martin Causer, R-Bradford, said IRRC oversight would add “another set of eyes” to the review process.
Roe said the Game Commission has an oversight board that is a separate entity and provides independent reviews.
Imposing IRRC oversight would be redundant, Roe said.
“It would essentially mean a regulatory review commission would oversee the actions of another regulatory review commission,” he said.
Causer said there is nothing to support claims from the bill's opposition that federal funding would become unavailable if the legislation passed.
Brigid Beatty is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-543-1303 or email@example.com.