A major turnover in the leadership of the House and Senate committees overseeing environmental and energy legislation is on tap for the next legislative session.

The change is due by chance to the retirements of Sen. Mary Jo White, R-21, Oil City, chairwoman of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, and Rep. Camille George, D-74, Houtzdale, ranking Democrat or minority chairman of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Resources Committee.

In addition, Rep. Scott Hutchinson, R-64, Oil City, the House environmental chairman, is running unopposed for the Senate seat being vacated by White.

That leaves Sen. John Yudichak, D-14 Nanticoke, likely to remain as ranking Democrat on the Senate environmental committee in the next session. Yudichak is in mid-term. He replaced his predecessor, former Sen. Ray Musto of Pittston, two years ago in the environmental committee position. With their sizeable majority, the Senate is likely to remain in Republican hands after the election.

The leaders of the House and Senate won't announce committee leadership appointments until next January as the new session gets under way.

This trio of appointments will be closely watched given the development of the natural gas reserves in the Marcellus Shale formation and the far-reaching environmental and economic issues associated with it.

The impact fee act enacted last March remains a matter of contention, with the state Supreme Court scheduled this week to hear arguments on a challenge to the law's provision limiting the ability of municipalities to control the location of drilling activity.

With the abrupt resignation of the state parks bureau director, speculation is rampant among environmental groups that the Corbett administration will pursue policies to open the state parks to drilling and other development. Officials at the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources dismiss that speculation.

The environmental plate hasn't been this full since the 1980s, when a rewrite of the oil and gas law, household trash recycling, drinking water protection, siting of hazardous waste incinerators and the start of the Chesapeake Bay cleanup were big issues facing the General Assembly.

The upcoming transition in committee leadership highlights how lawmakers from the northwest region, the home of the oil, shallow natural gas and timber industries, have played a major role in shaping environmental bills in recent years. Yudichak is the exception in the current lineup.

"You'd think they would be more interested in a regional balance," said Jeff Schmidt, director of the Sierra Club's Pennsylvania chapter. He has lobbied on environmental issues at the Capitol since the 1980s.

(Robert Swift is Harrisburg bureau chief for Times-Shamrock Communications newspapers. Email: rswift@timesshamrock.com.)