Watch out: Bills threaten endangered species protection

Bills threaten endangered species protection

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We’ll say this for the conservative rage against regulations — it has become brazen. At the very time environmental concerns are running high in Pennsylvania due to natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale, conservative politicians are trying to advance legislation in Harrisburg that would be a gift to gas and coal companies at the expense of protecting endangered species.

Senate Bill 1047 continues the time-honored political ruse of having an innocent-sounding name, in this case the Endangered Species Coordination Act. But the coordination that this act contemplates would hamstring the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission in listing threatened and endangered species and designating wild trout streams.

Together with a companion bill in the House — HB 1576 — this would change the rules on how species are listed by making recommendations subject to review by the Independent Regulatory Review Commission, which by law seeks to limit “hidden costs upon the economy... .” Strangely for a conservative initiative, this would add a layer of bureaucracy to the scientific decision-making process. More worrisome is that, unlike the Fish and Boat Commission, the review commission lacks scientific expertise.

The commission, founded in 1866, was empowered in 1974 to set rules and regulations for endangered species of fish, amphibians and reptiles. For all the talk by the bills’ sponsors that they do not want to harm the environment, they have taken aim at the very agency out in the field protecting the animals, and this for the clear purpose of making life easier for the companies that might disturb sensitive habitats. The measures would even endanger common species such as brook trout, the state fish. Now that’s brazen.

The Senate bill got a hearing Jan. 10 on the Indiana University of Pennsylvania campus before the Senate Game & Fisheries Committee and the Republican Policy Committee. Sen. Joseph Scarnati, R-Jefferson, who introduced the bill last year, said, “No one up here [on the podium] wants to swing the pendulum away from protecting endangered species, yet we need the jobs.” Note that disingenuous “yet.”

This is about jobs first and endangered species a distant second. It is also about favoring political ideology over science, and the false idea that jobs will disappear if endangered animals are protected. Proof that it is false is that, while the Fish and Boat Commission continues to do its job, Marcellus Shale drilling is booming.

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