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Editorial: Builders, environmentalists don't have to fight

It's a classic showdown: Developers and industry vs. environmentalists.

It doesn't have to be.

House Bill 1576 — dubbed the Endangered Species Coordination Act by its sponsors — drew predictable arguments from the day it was introduced this summer.

Business interests hailed an opportunity to streamline project approvals, reduce costs and create jobs. Outdoors enthusiasts claimed it was a bald move, pushed by Marcellus Shale interests, to undo decades of environmental law with the stroke of a pen.

In making their cases, both sides have put forward unsupported assertions. Depending on ideology, the answers are "yes" or "no."

Would the federal government pull some $27 million in funding for the state Fish and Boat and state Game commissions? Would politics trump science in the permitting process? Would the permitting process actually become more cumbersome? Bring more transparency to the process? Less?

Would the bill even solve the problem that was its impetus? That one is a little easier. Rep. Jeff Pyle, R-Indiana/Armstrong, says the Armstrong School District spent as much as $30,000 to determine the endangered Indiana bat was not on the site where it wanted to build a school — which could have been avoided if this legislation had been in place. The study, however, was required by federal law.

But the right legislation could aid business growth, increase state revenue and stretch public dollars — without all the dire consequences its opponents fear. Crafting such an outcome requires dialogue, however, not knee-jerk reactions.

Pennsylvania's permitting process should be faster. Many types of projects — from public schools and roads to housing development and, yes, natural-gas pipelines and wells — would benefit from a clearer, more accessible, data-driven process that determines whether a proposed project can proceed as planned before too much is invested.

Such clarity has the potential to temper the current adversarial nature of the permitting process, which could help environmental protection and endangered species in the end. Instead of approaching every application as a potential battle, both business and environmental advocates could deploy their limited time and resources where they bring the best return.

Whether H.B. 1576 is the ticket or just a starting point for debate, however, it deserves a fair and thorough hearing. There don't have to be winners and losers on this issue — unless you count the Pennsylvania economy, which needs both healthy development and a healthy ecosystem to thrive.

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