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Threatening endangered species

December 11, 2013

Here in the Upper Delaware River Valley, living close to nature, we realize its great value to our lives; we understand the importance of preserving our pristine rivers and streams, our healthy forests and nature’s critical diversity of species. In the language of science, we value our region’s amazing biodiversity and the essential ecosystems on which the river valley’s species depend.

An essential element of preserving biodiversity and ecosystems is defending threatened and endangered (T&E) species. Now, however, both in Washington, DC and in Harrisburg, PA, there are lawmakers seeking to weaken the process for protecting T&E species. The proposed Pennsylvania law is called, innocently enough, the Endangered Species Coordination Act. We believe it is not so innocent.

We join those who are expressing their grave concern at the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC), which has jurisdiction over listing T&E animals and birds, and those at the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PF&BC), which has jurisdiction over listing fish, reptiles and amphibians. We join also with the Northeast PA chapter of the Audubon Society, the Delaware Riverkeeper and others who are speaking out against the bills (House Bill 1576 and Senate Bill 1047).

The most serious problem with the proposed law is that it would turn over to bureaucrats at the state’s Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRRC) and to the legislature’s standing committees the final decision on whether to list or to delist a species, opening what has previously been a science-based process to politicization. As one legislator, who supports the House bill, told a constituent, “The independent review provided by IRRC is in place to provide accountability.” For us this raises the question of accountability to whom?

Other critics, such as PGC Executive Director Carl Roe, maintain that regulatory review by the IRRC is completely redundant to the process (because the boards of commissioners at the PGC and PF&BC already are fully independent agencies), and that the bills’ proposals would make the listing process burdensome, inefficient and slow by adding a new layer of bureaucracy.

The same legislator cited above went on to say that “lawmakers have for years heard concerns and frustrations from business and industry, as well as local government planners and conservation project planers about the cumbersome, non-transparent and time-consuming nature of the review process for environmental permitting… House Bill 1576 could serve to improve that system… while creating a proper balance between economic growth and environmental protection.”