August 30, 2013

Sept. 2 PA Environment Digest Now Available

The Sept. 2 PA Environment Digest is now available.  Click Here to print entire Digest.

House Committees Hear Significant Opposition To Endangered Species Legislation
House Bill 1576 (Pyle-R-Armstrong) which would standardize the state process for designating species of fish, wildlife or plants as threatened or endangered, as well as for designating waters as wild trout streams, was the subject of a hearing Monday by members of the House Game and Fisheries Committee, along with members of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, according to Rep. Jeff Pyle the bill’s prime sponsor.
The would fundamentally change the review and designation of threatened and endangered species in Pennsylvania and would immediately drop hundreds of species from environmental permit reviews, regardless of the significant amount of data supporting their consideration.
“We are simply asking for sufficient burden of proof that a species is truly endangered or under a threat of extinction,” Rep. Pyle said. “Not all state agencies are required to play by the same rules when it comes to these designations, and my bill would essentially level the playing field.”
House Bill 1576 would require both the Game Commission and the Fish and Boat Commission to go through the Independent Regulatory Review Commission and the related House and Senate committees when attempting to list a species as endangered. Currently, only the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is required to make the designations by regulation.
Rep. Pyle’s bill, also known as the Endangered Species Coordination Act, comes in reaction to a local school district building project that is situated in a habitat for a species of endangered bat. With no option for appealing the designation, the district chose to pay more than $61,000 into a conservation fund over the possibility of abandoning the project or being forced to find a new home for the bats.
“No one questions the ability of a government agency to render a decision or the possibility of a species being in danger,” Rep. Pyle added. “I am simply asking every agency empowered with the ability to carry out an action that, in this case, has the potential to significantly impact the economy of a community to have a second set of eyes review the decisions it makes.”  
“This is no different to any person who receives a medical diagnosis and seeks out a second opinion,” stated Rep. Dan Moul (R-Adams). “We trust our government agencies, and this bill is nothing more than asking them, in the interest of openness and transparency, to provide evidence that backs up their decisions.”
Any species currently listed as threatened or endangered would be required to go through the IRRC process within two years of the effective date of House Bill 1576, in order to justify its continued designation of that species. The bill also requires DCNR to maintain a database of species designated as threatened or endangered.
[Note: At the hearing, Rep. Jeff Pyle (R-Armstrong) prime sponsor of the bill said the section setting criteria for threatened or endangered species should not have changed the range of species definition and the words “in Pennsylvania” should have been included in the bill language.]
Copies of Testimony
Some of the testimony presented during the hearing is available online--
Second Hearing
The Committee Majority Chairs, Reps. Martin Causer (R-Cameron) and Ron Miller (R-York), announced that details on a similar hearing to be held in western Pennsylvania will soon be announced.
Opposition To The Bill
Letters of opposition to the bill were submitted by the Game Commission, Fish and Boat Commission, PA Council of Trout Unlimited and the PA Environmental Council.  Click Here for more information of the opposition of the Commissions and Trout Unlimited.  Click Here for PEC’s letter of opposition.
Op-Ed: Fate Of PA Endangered Species At Risk

Friday NewsClips

1 In 5 PA Voters Support Corbett Re-Election
Click Here for today's PA Environmental News

August 29, 2013

Thursday NewsClips

New Poll: A new Franklin & Marshall Poll finds 69 percent believe it’s time for a change in the Governor’s Office and 20 percent feel the current Governor Tom Corbett deserves to be re-elected.  17 percent of those polled felt Corbett was doing an excellent or good job, dropping from 25 percent in May.  By comparison, Gov. Ridge had a 57 percent approval number at this time in his tenure and Gov. Rendell 41 percent.  
The state’s major issues, according to the poll: 29 percent passing a transportation funding plan, 28 percent- unemployment, 24 percent expanding state’s Medicaid program, 23 percent schools and school funding, and 5 percent privatizing state liquor stores.
Other favorability ratings-- strongly and somewhat favorable: U.S. Senator Bob Casey 34 percent (43 percent in May); U.S. Senator Pat Toomey 26 percent (35 percent in May); President Obama 41 percent (52 percent in May).
New Poll Shows Governor Deeper In The Dumps
Corbett’s Poll Numbers Continue To Slide
Click Here for today's PA Environmental News

August 26, 2013

Gov. Corbett Asks For, Receives Resignation Of Education Secretary

Gov. Tom Corbett Monday requested and received the resignation of acting Secretary of Education, Dr. William E. Harner.
Harner, 56, of Carlisle, served as acting Secretary of Education since June 1. He previously served five years as superintendent for Cumberland Valley School District in Mechanicsburg.
Dr. Carolyn C. Dumaresq, the department’s Executive Deputy Secretary, will serve as acting Secretary of Education, effective immediately.
A former superintendent at Central Dauphin and Steelton-Highspire school districts, Dumaresq began her education career as a math teacher. Later, Dumaresq taught on a college level at the Harrisburg campuses of Temple and Penn State universities.
She served as executive director of the Pennsylvania State Education Association and president of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators. Dumaresq worked for the state Department of Education from 1976 to 1983, and then joined the department again in 2011.
Dumaresq is the recipient of several awards with recognition coming from the Education Policy and Leadership Center, the Keystone Research Center, the American Association of University Women, the American Association of School Administrators, and was named Pennsylvania Superintendent of the Year in 1994.
She has served leadership roles with the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators including president, board of governors, elections committee, chair of the legislative committee and president of the woman’s caucus.
Her community and social service has extended to the Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children, the Penn State Outreach Advisory Board, the National Council of State Education Agencies where she is a past president and the governing board of the Governor’s Center for Excellence and the Governor’s Work Force Investment Board.
Dumaresq, of Harrisburg, earned her bachelor’s degree from Hood College, her master’s degree from Villanova University and her doctorate in education with a concentration in personnel and labor relations from the University of Pennsylvania.
Corbett’s Education Secretary Quits

Monday NewsClips

Does Tom Wolf Have The Right Stuff For Governor?
Click Here for today's PA Environmental News

August 23, 2013

Aug. 26 PA Environment Digest Now Available

The Aug. 26 PA Environment Digest is now available.  Click Here to print entire Digest.

Bills Fundamentally Change Endangered Species Protection In PA, Eliminates Others

Bills now pending in the House and Senate would fundamentally change the way threatened and endangered species are protected in Pennsylvania putting at risk 73 existing state-designated threatened or endangered species because they would all have to be re-evaluated and put through the new adoption process outlined in the bill using new listing criteria.

The bill applies to the Game Commission, Fish and Boat Commissions and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources which now have the statutory authority to list threatened or endangered species.

In addition, the bill would immediately eliminate hundreds of species of special concern from environmental permit reviews entirely.  These species were found by the agencies to be rare in Pennsylvania and are tracked for conservation purposes in order to prevent them from becoming threatened or endangered.
During environmental permit reviews, the Department of Environmental Protection determines whether applicants must take further action to protect or avoid these species under an updated technical guidance it adopted in June.  Applicants are not required by law to do surveys or protect or avoid these species just on the recommendation of the Game and Fish and Boat Commissions or DCNR alone.
House Bill 1576 (Pyle-R-Armstrong) will be the subject of a joint hearing by the House Game and Fisheries and Environmental Resources and Energy Committee on August 26 in Pottsville.  The Senate companion-- Senate Bill 1047 (Scarnati-R-Jefferson)-- was introduced July 3, but no committee actions have been scheduled.
The Game Commission, Fish and Boat Commission and the PA Council of Trout Unlimited have already provided the House Committees with comments raising significant concerns with the bills.
Game Commission
In a letter to the House Game and Fisheries Committee on August 14, Carl Roe, Executive Director of the Game Commission, said the legislation attempts to fix a problem that does not exist and threatens millions of dollars in federal funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The bill would require all threatened and endangered species designations made by the Game and Fish and Boat Commissions to go through the regulation adoption process and the Independent Regulatory Review Commission.  (Listings by DCNR already go through the regulatory process.)
This extra layer of procedure and process, Roe said, ignores the fact that both Commissions now routinely provide two public notices and opportunities to comment on proposed listings and delisting of threatened and endangered species as well as two separate votes by the boards of the respective Commissions.
The present process can take up to six months, while the regulatory process can take 18 months or longer.
The bill also makes a fundamental change in the way agencies evaluate species for listing as threatened or endangered.  Instead of looking at a species range or habitat within Pennsylvania for which the agencies are responsible, it requires them to look at the entire range of habitat for a species even if it occurs across several states or in large regional areas across the United States.
In a simplified example, if there a 10 of the species in New York and only 2 in Pennsylvania, the bill would seem to direct the agencies to not protect the species in Pennsylvania because more exist outside the state.
In addition, the bill requires all species now listed to be re-listed through the regulatory process within two years of enactment of the bill. This means the Commissions would have to re-evaluate and send 73 state-designated threatened and endangered species through the two year window to protect their existing status.
The Commissions will also have to evaluate the existing listed species under the new, expanded range of habitat criteria created in the bill, draft a regulation and move it through the regulatory process in two years-- an all but impossible task with the resources the Commissions now have.
Effectively, this means the protection of  73 existing threatened and endangered species are put at risk by this bill because of the process outlined in the bill.
Roe said in his letter the Game Commission will be forced to hire new employees at substantial cost to implement the provisions of this bill, diverting existing licensing fees from their intended purposes.
Roe points out the bill may also have an effect opposite of the one intended by the sponsors of the bill.  The lack of state action to protect species may prompt the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list more species as federally threatened or endangered.
Over the past 10 years only three species have been added to the threatened or endangered species list by the Game Commission.
Fish & Boat Commission
Talking points circulated by the Fish and Boat Commission take a similar position opposing the bills as unnecessary and harmful to existing protections offered to threatened or endangered species in Pennsylvania.
“Because these bills appear to provide protection only to federally listed T&E species, species that are rare within Pennsylvania, but not globally rare will not be protected.  Effectively conserving species at the state level prevents regional and range-wide declines that require federal listings.”
The Fish and Boat Commission points out there is already a definition of “acceptable data” used by the Commission to consider listing of species by scientifically valid and defensible data.  The Commission also said the bill requires a new database to be created when there is already a database-- the PA Natural Diversity Inventory-- used for environmental reviews that is considered “one of the most advanced, and arguably the best, environmental review systems in the country.”
The Commission is also critical of the bills for opening access to specific location information for rare, threatened or endangered species which could allow anyone to pinpoint their location facilitating the potential for harm to those species.
In the last five years, the Fish and Boat Commission has added 13 species and de-listed 11 species from the state threatened, endangered and candidate species list.
PA Council of Trout Unlimited
Testimony prepared for delivery on behalf of Brian Wagner, President of the PA Council of Trout Unlimited during the August 26 Committee hearing concludes, “We believe that the provisions of House Bill 1576 are directly contrary to the wishes of the anglers of Pennsylvania.”
PA Trout Unlimited says the designation of wild trout streams, also covered by the bills requiring the designations to be done by regulation, is already subject to public review and must be scientifically justified.
“The current process for designating wild trout streams is rigorous and transparent and considers public input.  It is rigorous in that data are obtained via well established, scientific sampling methods, and designations are based on stringent technical criteria, including numbers of trout, biomass, and size classes represented. This rigorous, scientific process results in yes or no answers – either a stream meets the criteria for designation as one of the classes of wild trout waters, or it does not.  Although designation as a wild trout stream may ultimately have regulatory consequences, it is not itself a regulatory action.  It is simply a technical decision.
“(T)he Fish and Boat Commission does not make these decisions in a vacuum.  It posts on its web site results from surveys indicating that streams may be eligible for designation as wild trout streams.  Proposed stream designations are listed in the Pennsylvania Bulletin at least sixty days prior to any formal action, giving ample opportunity for public comment.  Anglers pay attention to these listings.  If you don’t believe that, simply mention Cross Fork Creek anywhere in the northern half of the State.  Proposed wild trout stream listings are then acted on by the Commission’s Board of Commissioners at its quarterly meetings, at which the public has an opportunity to provide comment on any Fish and Boat Commission business, including the proposed designation of wild trout streams.”
In closing, the testimony says, “In summary, I am reminded of sage advice given to me by my boss early in my career, when I assumed my first managerial position.  He said, “Hire good, well educated and trained people, give them the tools they need to get the job done, and then get the heck out of their way.”  The Fish and Boat Commission is staffed by good, well qualified people, who are using sound science to make decisions about the Commonwealth’s aquatic resources.  We are well advised to stay out of their way and allow them get the job done.”
The joint House Committee hearing will be held at the Empire Beauty School Auditorium, 396 Pottsville St Clair Highway, Pottsville starting at 2:00.
Click Here for a summary of House Bill 1576 by the sponsor.  Click Here for a summary of Senate Bill 1047 by the sponsor.