Senator: Seeking common ground

Harrisburg — The chairman of the Senate Game and Fisheries Committee – perhaps the only one standing in the way of the passage of controversial Senate Bill 1047 – met secretly with state Fish & Boat commissioners recently.

Sen. Richard Alloway, who revealed that he actually opposes the legislation that would greatly limit the Fish & Boat and Game commissions from designating endangered and threatened species, as well as wild-trout streams, claimed he is trying to reach a compromise position between shale gas industry proponents and environmentalists.

“There is only one person stopping this and that is me! I don’t like this bill and I don’t want this to go through the IRRC [Independent Regulatory Review Commission],” said the Franklin County Republican.

“I’m stopping this because I want to find a common ground, but I’m taking all the heat.”

Alloway contended that his position on the bill, which would add a layer of politically appointed bureaucracy to the designation of state threatened or endangered species, has been mischaracterized by the news media and opponents to the legislation.

SB 1047 and the companion legislation in the House, HB 1576, would place the listing of wild trout streams and state-listed endangered or threatened species under the control of a politically appointed Independent Regula-tory Review Commission.

The Fish & Boat and Game commissions currently determine the classification of species on these lists in the state.

According to conservation groups, these bills would jeopardize Pennsylvania’s eligibility to receive its annual share of Wildlife and Sport Fisheries Restoration program money.

Those funds come from a federal excise tax collected on the sale of sporting firearms, ammunition, handguns, archery equipment and fishing equipment.

To relinquish this funding could result in millions of dollars lost to the state wildlife agencies.

Confidential sources revealed that Alloway requested and held a secret January meeting with commissioners from the Fish & Boat Commission. At that session, Alloway allegedly attempted to coerce the commissioners to drop their opposition to SB 1047.

Alloway acknowledged that he held such a meeting, but views the context of the meeting in a different way.

“I’ve had private meetings with coal, timber, oil and gas, and just about anybody who moves dirt,” he said.

“I’ve also met with the Fish & Boat Commission, as well as DCNR. The meeting was absolutely not about asking them to drop their opposition; it was to try to convince them to help find the common ground.”

Alloway contended that the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs and others are spreading rumors about his stance on this bill.

“And I am the one trying to find the middle ground so that the agencies are not put under IRRC,” he said. “I don’t agree with what this bill is trying to do.  Putting them [Fish & Boat and Game commissions] under IRRC is not the answer.”

Melody Schell, spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, strongly disputed Alloway’s claim.

“The idea that the Federation is spreading rumors and unwilling to compromise is false – we, too, are looking for common ground,” she said,

“We are vehemently opposed to having this go through the Independent Regulatory Review Commission, but other than that, we are looking for a fix that will improve the process for industry – a fix that we can all live with.”

Pennsylvania Council of Trout Unlimited President Brian Wagner echoed the same concerns.

“Our main objection is the use of the non-scientific Independent Regulatory Review process with respect to the designation of wild trout streams. The IRRC would politicize the entire process,” he said.

“We would rather find a non-legislative solution – a compromise that we could all live with.”

Alloway noted that he is experiencing pressure from both sides.

“What business said is, “Let us know ahead of time where there are concerns or roadblocks [Class A wild trout streams and threatened or endangered species] before they spend the time and money on engineering at a site,” the senator explained.

“Industry is willing to pay a fee to learn this ahead of time, and I think that [revenue derived from] the fee should be shared with the agencies that review the permits.”

“According to Alloway, a Senate Game and Fisheries Committee hearing on SB 1047 will be held in Harrisburg later this winter or spring. A date has not yet been set.

The House version of the bill, HB 1576, was amended and has moved out of committee. It is expected to be considered by the full House of Representatives on March 10 or 11.

Alloway still hopes for a compromise agreement.

“I am trying to find the middle ground to allow the commissions to do their job and maintain their independence,” he said.

“If we reach the middle ground on this, it will be a win-win situation, and I think that we are close.”

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