by Billy Ball
On Sunday, the lame-duck Gov. Bev Perdue handed down her third veto of GOP-backed legislation in four days when she axed Senate Bill 820, a controversial measure paving the way for hydraulic fracturing, better known as "fracking," in North Carolina as soon as 2014.
It comes days after the governor used the veto power on a GOP-backed budget plan and an overhaul of the Racial Justice Act.
It remains to be seen whether Republican legislators have the support to override Perdue's fracking veto in the N.C. House. A veto override requires a three-fifths vote from both chambers, and neither chamber met that mark when the legislation was passed two weeks ago.
Still, thanks to absent lawmakers, Senate Republicans were successful in a 29-13 override vote Monday and House leaders could take a vote on the override this afternoon.
Perdue's fracking veto came at the last minute this weekend as Sunday was the last day she could exercise her veto power on the bill. Fracking opponents likely felt some angst awaiting word on Perdue's decision during the 10-day veto period as the governor announced in March that she backs fracking if the proper safeguards are in place.
The legislation opens the door to the natural gas drilling in two years after lawmakers build a regulatory structure, also granting wide powers to a newly-created mining commission to regulate the industry.
Supporters tout fracking as an economic energizer with the potential to create hundreds of jobs and bring revenues to lucky landowners in central parts of North Carolina like Sanford. Critics, however, note the many questions about the drilling's long-term environmental impacts, including examples of water pollution and increased seismic activity reported in other states.
Some also noted a majority of the mining commission's ranks would be filled by individuals with experience or interest in the industry.
Senate Bill 820—the brainchild of Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, and Rep. Mitch Gillespie, R-McDowell—survived opposition from N.C. General Assembly Democrats and environmentalists who said the legislation did not do enough to protect the state's environment.
In a statement Sunday, Perdue echoed those sentiments.
"Our drinking water and the health and safety of North Carolina's families are too important," Perdue said in the statement. "We can't put them in jeopardy by rushing to allow fracking without proper safeguards."
The governor called on lawmakers to adopt a "strong set of standards" as she urged in an executive order in May.
Not surprisingly, Republican legislative leaders are taking shots at the governor for her veto, calling it a "flip-flop" in a joint statement Sunday by House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, and Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, R-Rockingham.
"The General Assembly incorporated many of the governor's recommendations in a bipartisan plan to begin developing regulatory framework for affordable, clean energy alternatives," the lawmakers said. "We are disappointed, but not surprised, that when decision time neared, she once again caved to her liberal base rather than support the promise of more jobs for our state."
Meanwhile, environmental advocates applauded the veto.
"Gov. Perdue stood up for our drinking water today," said Elizabeth Ouzts, state director for Environment North Carolina, in a statement Sunday. "She stood up for our air quality and our rural landscapes, and against this dangerous approach to fracking."
Hope Taylor, executive director of Clean Water for NC, said in a statement that the governor heeded the voices of a number of fracking opponents who called for the governor's veto in recent weeks.
"While there are varying perceptions about the safety of fracking and the economic potential of shale gas in North Carolina, it's only those who already have a vested interest in shale gas, or who want to bring dirty oil and gas money into N.C. elections who were pushing hard for this bill—that's why bill supporters couldn't muster many contacts to the governor," Taylor said.
Democrats' gubernatorial candidate, Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton, took the opportunity to separate himself from the unpopular Perdue, releasing a statement Monday criticizing the veto.
"This legislation sets up a regulatory structure that, while not perfect, is a proactive step and no fracking can occur until further action by the legislature," Dalton said. "The House did take steps to include more safeguards, especially for the drinking water supply, which is one of my principle concerns."