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Environmentalists against endangered species legislation

By Bo Koltnow, Reporter, BKoltnow@wfmz.com
Published On: Dec 19 2013 05:06:23 PM CST
Updated On: Dec 19 2013 06:16:06 PM CST

Endangering the endangered. Environmentalists think legislation being looked at in Harrisburg will do just that to Pennsylvania's endangered species.

Endangering the endangered. Environmentalists think legislation being looked at in Harrisburg will do just that to Pennsylvania's endangered species.

There's close to two dozen animals on Pennsylvania's endangered species list. Currently, scientists make the determination but a proposed bill would give the final say to a regulatory review committee and environmentalists fear that could have long lasting repercussions.

Environmental advocate Faith Zerbe was at the "Little Lehigh" checking water quality.

"If you have a clean water shed it means you have cleaner water, purer water in the community," she said.

While this water she checked looked good, she and other environmentalists have their eyes on what they call a bad stream of proposed legislation floating around Harrisburg.

"The bill moves very quickly to try and take the science out of the process and replace with legislative aspect," Montgomery County, State Rep, Democrat Steve McCarter said.

The bill (House Bill 1576) would change the way Pennsylvania delegates endangered species. Taking the final say from the state's Game and Fish and Boat commissions and into the hands of the Independent Regulatory Review Committee.

"All we are doing is making the Fish and Game Commission do the very same thing every single other state regulatory agency has to do," said Rep. Jeff Pyle.

Armstrong County Republican Representative Pyle also said the current law stifles economic development.

"Right now there is no ability to challenge the decisions anywhere at all," Pyle added.

His bill has been backed by The Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association and the state's Builders Association among others.

McCarter says, among other things, the bill could give undue influence to big business.

"Industry is looking into very short term impact of their bottom line. While scientists are looking at the long term of agricultural development and protecting from diseases," McCarter added.

Zerbe fears the process could endanger the very animals that keep streams like the "Little Lehigh" clean and disease free.

"Those critters, those mussels filter water. That's what they do, they do us a favor and they do it for free," she said.

The Fish and Wildlife Service warns the state could lose out on $27 million in annual federal grant money if this legislation passes.

The issue is tabled for now but is expected to be picked back up in the spring.