Wow, what a week! Legislation continues to fly through the General Assembly, and last week a number of our issues were front and center. At the beginning of the week over 200 activist gathered at the legislature on the same day that a Senate committee voted to approve fracking legislation, and that was only Tuesday! Here’s a full recap of everything that happened this week, and a preview of what’s coming up.
Fracking Bill in the Spotlight
The fracking debate reached a crescendo this week in the North Carolina Senate. On Tuesday morning hundreds of activist gathered in downtown Raleigh and marched to the legislative building just before the Senate Commerce Committee was scheduled to hear the S820, the fracking bill. The committee was originally scheduled to meet in the largest committee room in the building, however minutes before the meeting the committee chair switched the meeting to a much smaller committee room. As a result, hundreds of citizens were left outside in the hallway and were not able to hear the committee debate the bill. Inside the room, a number of citizens spoke in favor of and in opposition to the bill, and a number of senators asked questions of the bill sponsor. Following a short debate, the committee voted to pass the legislation out of committee. You can read some of the coverage of the Tuesday’s events here and here. Be sure to check out this picture featuring the Cypress Group’s Elizabeth Greene!
The very next day, S820 was heard on the Senate floor. After bill sponsor Sen. Bob Rucho (R-Mecklenburg) explained the bill, Sen Neal Hunt (R-Wake) offered an amendment to give local governments a voice on the newly created Mining and Energy Commission. After Sen. Rucho encouraged members to vote against the amendment, the amendment failed by a narrow margin of 23-25. You can view the votes on the Hunt amendment here. Next, Sen. Josh Stein (D-Wake) offered another amendment that would have kept fracking illegal, directed DENR to come up with draft recommendations for regulations, and added a number of consumer protections not in Sen. Rucho’s version of the bill. While debating his amendment, Sen. Stein gave a thoughtful and passionate speech about the dangers of fracking and the need to proceed with caution. Please take the time to email at email@example.com to thank him for his comments. Unfortunately, Sen. Stein’s amendment failed by a vote of 18-30. You can view those votes here. Following comments by a number of other senators, the senate voted to pass the bill by a vote of 29-19. You can view the all of the votes here, but of particular interest two Republicans, Sen. Neal Hunt (R-Wake) and Sen. Richard Stevens (R-Wake) both voted against the bill, and two Democrats, Sen. Clark Jenkins (D-Edgecombe) and Sen. Michael Walters (D-Robeson) both voted for the bill. You can watch the full debate of the bill on the senate floor here, and read news coverage from Wednesday here and here.
The fracking bill will be heard in the House Environment Committee this week, and could come up for a vote on the house floor later in the week. Please take the time to contact your house member now and encourage them to vote against S820.
Sea Level Rise Bill Gets National Attention
A new bill that would prevent North Carolina from using the best available science to predict sea level rise has garnered worldwide ridicule. The bill was featured in publications from as far away as the LA Times and the UK Guardian. Some of the more entertaining commentary came from Scientific American and Grist. But the biggest prize came late Monday night, when Stephen Colbert mocked the bill in front of a national TV audience on the Colbert Report. Despite ridicule from all corners of the globe, bill sponsor Sen. David Rouzer moved forward with the bill, presenting it to the Senate Agriculture/Environment/Natural Resources committee on Thursday afternoon. Incredibly the committee voted unanamously in favor of the bill, and it’s likely to be heard on the senate floor this week. You can read coverage of Thursday’s committee meeting here, or watch it here.
Boards and Commissions Bill Moves Through Senate Committees
The Boards and Commissions Efficiency Act of 2012 was approved by one senate committee this week, but it still has one more committee stop before it goes to the senate floor. In a bit of good news, the section that eliminated the Mountain Resources Commission has been removed from the bill. However, the section that we’re most concerned about, which would strategically remove members with environmental protection experience from the Environmental Management Commission, remains in the bill. The bill now has to go through the Senate Finance Committee, and it could be on the senate floor later this week. The reasons why removing members with environmental protection expertise from the EMC is a terrible idea are well articulated in this thoughtful op-ed from EMC Chair Steve Smith.
Last Stop for Air Toxics Bill
On Thursday the Senate Agriculture/Environment/Natural Resources committee voted to approve the Air Toxics Program Reform bill with very little debate. The bill is likely to make its final stop, on the senate floor, later this week.
As you can tell these bills are all moving very quickly. There is new news about the fracking bill almost every day, so check your email for updates and please, take the time to email your house member to let them know how you feel about the bill.
Have a great week!
Director of Government Relations
North Carolina Sierra Club
112 South Blount Street
Raleigh, NC 27601