Pennsylvania – Legislative Bills Introduced to Address Threatened and Endangered Species
As part of the permitting process for natural resource extraction permits in Pennsylvania (coal, oil, natural gas) permit applicants must conduct threatened and endangered species reviews utilizing the Pennsylvania Natural Diversity Inventory (PNDI) environmental review tool. This online tool allows the user to search the Commonwealth’s database by entering the project area and type into a GIS system and receiving one or more of four potential results: 1) no known impact, 2) potential impact, 3) avoidance measure and 4) conservation measure. If the results return anything other than the first result, consultation with and clearance from appropriate jurisdictional agency is required before the permit application can be processed. The appropriate jurisdictional agency can be any one of the US Fish and Wildlife Service; the Pennsylvania Game Commission; the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission or the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. A significant problem with this PNDI process is the lack of upfront transparency. This lack of transparency has been the focus of considerable frustration and criticism from the resource extraction industry for many years. The inability to determine in advance, what specific issues must be addressed by the project planners or permit applicanst has resulted in acquisition delays or revisions to site plans and extensions of permit processing timelines.
Two bills were recently introduced by the Pennsylvania legislature to address some of the existing problems with this threatened and endangered species process. These two bills, Senate Bill 1047 sponsored by Senator Joseph Scarnati, and House Bill 1576 sponsored by Representative Jeff Pyle, require the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to develop a new centralized database. This database must be accessible to the public and must identify the specific locations of the threatened and endangered species as well as the potential avoidance and mitigation measures required. Additionally, any action by a state agency to designate fish, wildlife or plants as threatened or endangered or to designate a stream as a wild trout stream will be subject to review through the Commonwealth’s Regulatory Review Act. The Regulatory Review Act will require the submitting agency to provide detailed reasons and data to support any proposed designation.
These bills, should they be enacted, promise to significantly improve the access to and availability of species type and location information. This will greatly simplify project planning and land acquisition for resource development activities and shorten the permitting timelines. It will also subject proposed species for designation to a more rigorous and objective review process that should confirm or reject the need for the elevated status. The bills also require the existing list of species to be reprocessed under the Regulatory Review Act after a two year period before being reinstated on the list.