One week after passing the Senate, the fracking bill (S820) made its way through the House. The bill only had one committee stop in the House, at 8:30 Wednesday morning in the House Environment Committee, where a brand new version of the bill was revealed for the first time. The meeting began with bill handlers explaining the process the bill had been through to get to its current version. They pointed out that the bill had been improved since it passed the Senate, and claimed that they had addressed most concerns of many of the critics of the bill. Next, legislative staff explained each section of the 30 page bill. After the explanation, the floor was opened for members of the committee to ask questions of the bill sponsors and staff. One particularly interesting line of questioning came when committee members asked DENR about how the bill would be implemented. When asked about the staff resources needed, Smith replied that they would need at least seven new staff positions to implement the bill. Notably, the current bill does not appropriate any money to DENR. When asked about how long it would take to research, draft, and adopt new rules under the current Administrative Procedures Act rulemaking process, Smith replied that it would take at least 3-4 years. Notably, the bill gives all agencies two years to complete the task. Although citizens were told they would have a chance to comment on the bill, and some signed up the night before and took off work to be at the committee, the committee did not take public comment on the bill during its one committee stop in the House. You can read coverage of Wednesday’s committee meeting here, here, and here.
One day after a new version of the bill was seen for the first time during the bill’s one committee stop in the House, the bill was debated on the House floor. The debate began with a number of pro-fracking legislators making the case for the bill. A number of memorable quotes included this claim that “I know of no common sense person who is against this bill”, meaning against fracking. Following these opening comments, the House began considering a dozen amendments. An amendment was introduced that would have completely removed the current bill language,and replaced it with their own 20 page bill that would have required additional study of fracking, and added many additional consumer protections not in the current bill. Unfortunately that amendment failed by a vote of 49-59. Next, amendments were introduced to extend the deadlines for various studies in the bill, and to give DENR the funding necessary to implement the bill. Unfortunately both amendments failed. Next, an amendment was introduced to extend the deadline for rulemaking, which also failed. Finally, three different amendments were introduced aimed at protecting landowners by outlawing forced pooling and clarifying that current trespass laws would protect landowners from fracking. All three amendments failed, but one by only one vote. You can see the vote counts on all 12 amendments here. It’s also worth noting that the Speaker employed a rarely used parliamentary procedure to cut off the debate on all amendments after only 10 minutes, often severely limiting the discussion of the amendments. After voting on all of the amendments, the House then began debating the bill. Many legislators spoke out strongly against the bill, with impassioned pleas and firsthand accounts of the ill effects from fracking. Following the debate, the House voted to pass the bill by a margin of 66-43. You can view all of the votes here. There a couple of interesting takeaways from the votes. First, two Republicans, voted against the bill. Two Democrats, voted for the bill. None of the “gang of five” Democrats who have often voted with the Republicans on key votes voted for the bill. Most notably, the 66 votes in favor of the bill fell significantly short of the 72 votes needed to override a veto. That is assuming, of course, that the governor will veto the bill. You can read coverage of Thursday’s lengthy debate here, and here, and a discussion of the next steps here. The bill now has to go back to the Senate for a final concurrence vote. Next, the bill will go to the governor’s desk.
Our focus will now turn to convincing Governor Perdue to veto this legislation. We’ll be sending out an official action alert soon, but don’t wait to contact the Governor! You can reach her office at (800)662-7952 or (919)733-2391. Don’t wait!
Submitted by: Janet Joyce Smith, Membership Chair, NC Sierra Cypress Group