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Obscure mussel on front line in Pa. battle between drillers, enviros

Most Pennsylvanians have probably never heard of the rabbitsfoot mussel. 

Even fewer are likely to have encountered one of the small freshwater mollusks in the wild. 

The rabbitsfoot is one of dozens of species on Pennsylvania's state-level endangered species list, which figures to be the next front in the ongoing political battle between the state's burgeoning natural gas industry and the environmental movement, which sees the gas drillers as a threat to the state's natural beauty. 

But for the drillers extracting gas from Pennsylvania's rich Marcellus shale deposits, protected snakes, mussels, frogs and salamanders can stop even the most powerful of their machines. 

The Marcellus Shale Coalition, the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association and other industry groups are calling for the passage of House Bill 1576, which would remove all species now on the list -- though they could be re-added later. 

"This legislation aims to bring consistency and transparency to the review process to ensure that habitat and species are protected while not unnecessarily halting projects, economic development and job creation," said Kathryn Klaber, president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition. 

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