By Steve Esack
Republican-backed bills to give the Legislature more control over the protection of endangered and threatened wildlife could cost the state more than $27 million annually, according to the federal government.
If the bills become law, Pennsylvania could lose eligibility in two of the nation's oldest grant programs geared toward preserving, restoring and protecting wildlife and waterways, according to an Aug. 9 letter the state Game Commission got from the U.S. Interior Department's Fish and Wildlife Service.
"I have significant concerns with this bill and the risk it presents to the Game Commission relative to loss of federal funding," wrote John F. Organ, chief of the division of Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration.
But Rep. Jeff Pyle, R-Armstrong, the prime sponsor of the House bill, said the legislation does not strip the Game or Fish and Boat commissions of their authority. Rather, he said, the bill, which was the subject of a public hearing Monday, is meant to check the commissions' authority.
Pyle said they are the only state agencies that do not have their policy decisions vetted through the Independent Regulatory Review Commission, which sets up public forums for new government regulations prior to final approval by lawmakers. The bill is needed, Pyle said, because the Game Commission made his local school district spend extra money to preserve Indiana bats, which are endangered, even though the bats were not on the land where a new school was being built.
"Those guys are the judge, jury and executioner," he said.
The threat of losing federal money is "hollow," Pyle added. More....