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September 8, 2013

Agencies, groups raise alarms about changing environmental law

PITTSBURGH — State agencies, environmentalists and the federal government are raising alarms about proposed legislation that could significantly change the Pennsylvania laws that protect threatened and endangered species in the state.

The legislation would give the state Independent Regulatory Review Commission a role in the process of listing or delisting threatened or endangered species and in listing Wild Trout Streams. The state Game and Fish and Boat commissions now have exclusive authority for birds, animals, fish and other species.

Bills in the Senate and House of Representatives would make it harder to keep species on a threatened or endangered list and make it “nearly impossible” to add new species, said George Jugovic, a lawyer with the environmental group Penn Future.

But state Rep. Jeff Pyle, R- Armstrong, the lead sponsor of the House bill, said he’s concerned that the public has “no possible way to contest” decisions by the state commissions.

Pyle said he was motivated to file the legislation when a local school district had to spend $61,000 to compensate for build­ing in an area where a species of endangered bat lives. But Game Commission spokes­man Travis Lau told The Associated Press  the state agency had “no involve­ment whatsoever” in that case and the $61,000 was for a federal endangered species program.

Giving the Regulatory Review Commission a role in designating Wild Trout Streams concerns the state chapter of Trout Unlimited, a sportsman’s conservation group.

“We really don’t see the value of adding another layer of bu­reaucracy. What problem are we really trying to fix here?” said TU state president Brian Wagner.

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