The action has officially kicked into high gear here in Raleigh. Last week many of the bills we’re working on saw signification action, and this week promises to be an even bigger week for the session’s hottest issue: fracking. Here’s a rundown of last week’s action, as well as a preview of what to expect this week.
New Fracking Bill Revealed
Last week we told you about the two very different fracking bills filed in the house and senate. Senator Bob Rucho’s S820 represents the “fast track” approach to legalizing fracking, while Representative Mitch Gillespie’s H1064 represents a “go slow” approach. For weeks, leaders in the house and senate have debated about which version would prevail, but for now that struggle seems to be on hold. On Thursday morning in the Senate Commerce committee, Senator Rucho unveiled a new version of S820 that supposedly represents a compromise between his approach and Representative Gillespie’s approach. The new bill isn’t posted online yet because the committee hasn’t voted on it yet, but attached to this email you will find a copy of the new bill, as well as a summary of the bill prepared by the legislative research staff. Here’s a quick rundown of what the bill does: First, the bill overturns the state’s ban on horizontal drilling and hyrdraulic fracturing, thereby legalizing the controversial practice. However, the bill says that no permits shall be issued “until the General Assembly takes legislative action to allow the issuance of such permits”. That means that in some future legislative session, likely in 2015 or later, the legislature will have to vote to allow fracking to move forward in the state. The bill also restructures the state’s existing mining commission, giving it a new name, new members, and lots of additional power. The newly named “Mining and Energy Commission” would be largely made up of representatives of the oil and gas industry, and would have the authority to make most of the decisions about fracking. One of the other troubling items in the bill is the explicit limitation on the ability of local governments to control fracking within their jurisdictions.
While the committee heard a summary of the bill and there was some time for questions from senators, the committee did not take a vote on the bill. The vote is likely to happen TOMORROW. Coincidentally, tomorrow is also our coalition’s citizen lobby day! Please join the dozens of citizens from across North Carolina who are coming to Raleigh tomorrow to have their voices heard. You can read more about the lobby day here. If you’re interested in attending or want more information, please email Travis Hargett at email@example.com. I hope to see you all tomorrow!
Air Toxics Bill Clears the House
Last Tuesday the House voted to pass the “State Air Toxics Program Reform” bill. As a reminder, this bill would make alter the state’s Air Toxics Program by exempting sources that are subject to federal Maximum Achievable Control Technology standards. As originally drafted, the bill contained no safeguards for public health or the environment. However, after months of grassroots pressure and lobbying, the bill sponsor amended the bill to include a number of safeguards, including requiring the Division of Air Quality to asses all permit applications for potential threats to public health. When the bill was debated on the house floor a number of Democrats including Rep. Joe Hackney (D-Orange), Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford), Rep. Grier Martin (D-Wake), Rep. Jennifer Weiss (D-Wake), Rep. Susan Fisher (D-Buncombe), and Rep. Paul Luebke (D-Durham) spoke out strongly against the bill. Following the debate the house voted 70-46 to pass the bill. Notably seven Democrats voted for the bill, and two Republicans voted against the bill. You can see how every legislator voted here. Next the bill moves to the senate, where it has been referred to the Agriculture/Environment/Natural Resources committee.
House Passes the Budget
Just before midnight on Wednesday night the house passed this year’s budget bill. As a reminder, this year’s budget bill is not a whole new budget, it simply makes a number of changes to last year’s budget bill. Although there were no major changes to the budget for environmental agencies, the bill did make a number of troubling changes, including changing the Clean Water Management Trust Fund from an automatically recurring appropriation to one that will have to be funded each year. The final vote on the budget was 73-46, with the same five Democrats who voted for last year’s budget voting to approve this year’s budget as well. You can view the votes here. The budget bill will now move to the senate.
Senate Passes Regulatory Reform 2.0
On Thursday the Senate passed S810, the Regulatory Reform Act of 2012. As we’ve said before, this bill doesn’t come close to doing the same amount of damage as the Regulatory Reform Act of 2011, but it does make some small changes to the Administrative Procedures Act and a number of environmental statutes. The senate voted 47-1 to pass the bill, with Senator Ellie Kinnaird (D-Orange) as the only senator voting against the bill.
Boards and Commissions Bill in Committee Tomorrow
The Boards and Commissions Efficiency Act will be heard in the Senate Program Evaluation committee tomorrow. As a reminder, this bill would eliminate a number of critical boards and commissions, and downsize many others. Of particular concern is the apparent targeting of commissioners with expertise in public health and environmental protection.
Watch Your Emails!
Things are moving at lightning speed here in Raleigh, and we’re doing our best to keep you up-to-date with what’s going on. Please check your emails throughout the week for updates on fracking and other bills. We hope to see you all tomorrow for the Fracking Lobby Day!
Director of Government Relations
North Carolina Sierra Club
112 South Blount Street
Raleigh, NC 27601