State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

A scare from feds over proposed endangered species policy

Written by Mary Wilson, Capitol Bureau Chief | Sep 3, 2013 9:18 PM

State House and Senate proposals to change the way endangered species are designated have pit environmentalists against industry groups. Now federal officials say millions of dollars in grants are also at stake.

The Republican-backed measures in question would mean the two state agencies in charge of listing endangered species get some outside oversight from a state review panel as well as legislative committees.

The bills triggered a letter last month from the federal government warning such a change could cost the commonwealth more than $27 million in federal grants to the two agencies, the Game Commission and the Fish and Boat Commission.

Rep. Steve McCarter (D-Montgomery), takes the potential loss seriously.

"You're pushing his process now to more and more lay personnel instead of the scientists, really, who are more capable of understanding, I think, the broad range of the implications involved here," McCarter said.

Backers of the additional oversight say it's needed to ensure endangered species designations don't put the brakes on industry and land use. The House bill's sponsor, Rep. Jeff Pyle (R-Armstrong), has said he considers the threat of losing federal funding an empty one.

It's true that federal officials have not said losing the grant dollars is a sure thing. But John Organ, an official with the Fish and Wildlife Service of the U.S. Department of the Interior, said it remains questionable whether federal grants could go to state agencies for conservation purposes when those agencies don't have sole control over their conservation programs.

"In essence, the collateral effects of the proposed legislation thats [sic] removes control from the agencies is the problem," Organ wrote in an e-mail.


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