Pennsylvania House Bill 1576, which would gut the state’s Endangered Species Act, should go extinct.
The bill’s primary sponsor is state Rep. Jeffrey Pyle, a Republican from a gerrymandered district east of Pittsburgh. Pyle chairs the committee on environmental resources and energy’s subcommittee on mining. He presents H.B. 1576 as a measure to standardize the process used to list plants, fish, birds and mammals as endangered or threatened and for designating protected trout streams, but he is doing those species and streams no favors.
In fact, Pyle is doing the bidding of the gas industry, which wants no pesky animal or plant to get in the way of its wells.
The natural gas industry already has had a field day in Pennsylvania. The rules allow wells virtually anywhere and already removed zoning authority from local municipalities. Drillers in Pennsylvania don’t even pay an extraction tax on this valuable commodity — standard practice in most other drilling states and a system that would have produced far higher revenues than the impact fee legislators passed.
Pennsylvania’s Endangered Species Act is working to protect some 80-odd species. It’s separate from the federal act. The Keystone State law aims to protect animals and plants that are endangered within the region, and provides for the state to manage some of the species deemed endangered under the federal law. Wildlife biologists working for the Fish & Boat Commission and Game Commission administer the law.
Now the gas industry wants to “balance” species protection against what it considers excessive regulation. H.B. 1576 calls for a full review of every species on the list within two years, and would have politically appointed Regulatory Review Commission members make decisions on act recommendations rather than the scientists and wildlife experts who can make more informed judgments. Listing a plant or animal for protection should not depend on the whim or convenience of a developer or driller, but on whether inclusion on the list for protection will help it survive in the Keystone State.
It’s important for Pennsylvania to protect its biological diversity. Each species in Pennsylvania, however obscure, plays a distinct but integrated role in the whole fabric of nature. Start removing pieces of this interconnected web, and who knows what piece will go next?
Even when it comes to lucrative extractive industries, we are better off working with the natural world than against it.