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Thursday, November 14, 2013

Striking Appropriate Balance with the
Endangered Species Coordination Act

An Op-Ed by
Senator Richard Alloway

As an avid sportsman and conservationist, I find the rhetoric surrounding opposition to Senate Bill 1047 and House Bill 1576, known as the Endangered Species Coordination Act, both disappointing and disingenuous. Protection of Pennsylvania's most vulnerable species and preservation of the habitats that sustain them is one of the core functions of three Pennsylvania state agencies-the Game Commission, Fish and Boat Commission and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR). These agencies effectively protect the Commonwealth's threatened and endangered species, and they are undoubtedly the best equipped to continue to fulfill this critical charge. This legislation would not change that, rather it would simply establish a consistent, transparent and accountable framework for doing so.

SB 1047 and HB 1576 strike the right balance between species protection and economic considerations. Species are best protected when those industries that move earth can responsibly plan their development projects so that they can avoid them. This legislation would ensure such a commonsense approach to project planning. As for designation of species and wild trout streams, the objective of this legislation is not to usurp authority from the agencies but to ensure that designations occur in a standard and transparent manner, similar to every other Pennsylvania state agency, including DCNR which also protects the state's threatened and endangered plant life. Counter to the assertions of the Game Commission and Fish and Boat Commissions' executive directors, an agency's independence does not determine whether or not it should be held accountable to the public for the regulations it promulgates. As a legislator, I have never heard the Public Utility Commission or the Liquor Control Board, both independent state agencies, complain that they were unable to do their jobs because they were required to solicit and respond to public comments and provide the evidence underlying the need for their proposed regulations. That would be absurd. Accountability and transparency is the backbone of good government, not a hindrance to it.

I have followed HB 1576's progression in the House and appreciate the thoughtful consideration that Chairman Causer and Chairman Haluska have afforded it with two public hearings. I’m also currently planning a public hearing in the Senate Game and Fisheries Committee on the issue. I’m pleased that the valid concerns raised have been addressed through a bi-partisan amendment and strong committee vote. As a result of this cooperative process that resolves the legitimate concerns with the bill, I urge my fellow sportsmen and conservationists to re-examine this legislation before allowing the politics and rhetoric to overshadow its merits. Consistency, transparency and accountability are important tenets of government. They do not run counter to species designation and management, and in many ways they will actually augment it. I look forward to seeing this bill move through the House so that we can continue to consider it, on its merits, in the Senate.

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