Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
A measure to give a regulatory review panel of state political appointees the trump card in decisions over wildlife conservation in Pennsylvania has cleared a state House committee.
Under the measure, the two independent commissions now in charge of designating endangered species and protected streams will be overseen by a review panel as well as lawmakers.
Opponents say the plan will inject politics into a process that should be based only on science. The plan's backers include commerce groups, natural gas companies, and homebuilders.
The bill's sponsor, Republican state Representative Jeff Pyle of Armstrong County, said after the committee hearing on Wednesday that conservationists shouldn't get carte blanche if the result is stifled industry.
"If you go back and look at the Game Commission and Fish and Boat's charter," said Pyle, referring to the two commissions that now control threatened and endangered species designations, "they're not allowed to make any decisions based on economic reasons. But I think in today's economy, and with jobless figures the way they are, it has to be considered. There's a balance to everything."
"This is what the industries want," said Laura Jackson, a conservationist from Bedford County. "They want the authority removed from the Fish and Boat Commission and the Game Commission and they want it now to be under political control." Jackson attended the committee meeting with about 15 other activists opposed to the legislation.
The measure was amended in committee to address concerns that more than $27 million in federal funds might be lost because the state's conservation agencies would no longer have sole authority over their programs.
Jackson said the amendment offers no guarantee the federal money will stay. Arguments that the measure provides a much-needed "check and balance" to the Game Commission and Fish and Boat Commission struck her as deceptive.
"That check and balance system is built into the scientific method," Jackson said. "They're talking about checks and balances on a political level, and that's totally different."
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