by Lisa Sorg
Senate Bill 709 is dead, at least temporarily.
Gov. Beverly Perdue vetoed the bill, widely derided by environmental and clean-energy groups for its focus on fossil fuels and offshore and onshore drilling.
Yet it was also the constitutionality of the measure—which critics had questioned since Republican Sens. Bob Rucho, Tommy Tucker and Harry Brown sponsored it earlier this year—that prompted Perdue to veto the bill.
In her veto statement Perdue wrote that SB 709 "was unconstitutional on its face. By directing the governor to enter into a compact with the governors of South Carolina and Virginia, the General Assembly is intruding on constitutional power of the executive branch, and is therefore, violating separation of powers principles that are enshrined in our constitution."
Perdue is referring to a provision in the bill that would encouraged oil and gas exploration and drilling off the North Carolina coast, which was also opposed by many coastal communities because of the potential impact on tourism as well as environmentally sensitive areas.
Closer to the Triangle, the bill would have also created a favorable climate for fracking, a type of onshore drilling that has been linked to contaminants in drinking water and air, as the Indy reported in May. Energy exploration companies have already targeted Lee and Chatham counties for fracking.
In addition, the Energy Policy Council, an advisory group that makes recommendations to the governor and the Legislature, would have veered from its path of developing clean energy resources for the state. Instead, the bill, in an example of blatant greenwashing, would have renamed the group the Energy Jobs Council. The council would have been stacked with members from the fossil fuel industry, as the Indy also reported in May.
Not surprisingly, environmental groups applauded the governor's veto.
“Gov. Perdue stood up for the state’s beaches today,” said Elizabeth Ouzts, state director of Environment North Carolina, in a prepared statement. “Senate Bill 709 puts our treasured coast at risk of a dangerous spill. Instead of creating jobs in wind and solar power, the bill threatens jobs in coastal fishing and tourism.”
Georgette Foster, Environmental Defense Fund's regional communications director for North Carolina, also issued a statement: "The veto prevents a headlong rush into dirty fossil fuel sources that could dramatically change the face of North Carolina. No one wants that. The risks of offshore drilling to the coast and fracking to water supplies are well documented. Lawmakers should not repeat the mistakes made by other states.
It’s unclear if the Legislature will try to override Perdue’s veto. Check back for updates.