N.C. Senate clears fracking bill | News

N.C. Senate clears fracking bill

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The Senate passed a massive fracking bill Thursday which would lift North Carolina's fracking moratorium and allow drilling to begin as early as July, 2015.

S786, or the Energy Modernization Act, could be heard in the House next week. 

One of the most egregious provisions in the bill which made disclosing fracking trade secrets a Class 1 felony was reduced, in an amendment by Sen. Chad Barefoot, R- Wake, to being punishable as a Class 1 misdemeanor, the difference between months and days of community punishment.

Senate Democrats had proposed no punishment for disclosure of trade secrets yesterday but were voted down, though they did manage to get in a provision that would require more frequent water testing.

An amendment from Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake that would measure air pollution from fracking, was shut down today as well.

Amendments forcing companies to report banned fracking fluids and bonding of $1 million for drilling companies made it into the bill.

Elizabeth Ouzts, director of Environment North Carolina, said the Senate broke a promise to protect the state’s rivers and drinking water.

“We urge the House to keep the promise and stand up against the rush to frack,” Ouzts said.

The Senate also passed the Regulatory Reform Act, S734, in its second reading. Sponsored by Sen. Trudy Wade, R-Guilford, this bill would abolish a century-old ban on cursing on sidewalks, increase the fine for parking in a handicap space and “streamline” environmental regulations.

Sen. Stein proposed an amendment that DENR keep monitors for air pollution in place. Sen. Wade said the EPA is working on new air quality laws and state resources needed to be freed up for that.

Sen. Mike Woodard, D-Durham, proposed to remove a section that would preempt rules regarding the protection of Jordan Lake; a Legislative Research Commission has already developed rules for Jordan Lake which haven’t yet been vetted by the General Assembly.

Woodard called the provision an “attack on local control.”

And Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham, moved to remove sections of the bill which repeal energy office audits at state agencies and to ensure the Actual Innocence Commission—a forum for people challenging wrongful convictions—stays in place.

Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Moore, said the Commission is ineffectual.

Sarah Preston from the American Civil Liberties Union North Carolina said the Commission, which investigates claims of innocence, is actually responsible for exonerating six people and "is doing real work in identifying claims of innocence."

All the amendments to S734 introduced by Senate Democrats were killed by date change amendments to the original bill, introduced by Sen. Apodaca, R-Buncombe.

The Senate will hear the bill in its third reading next Wednesday.

The Senate Judiciary Committee this morning heard from members of the public about the Commerce Protection Act, which covers tort reform, consumer protection and similar issues. 

S648 originally addressed employment fraud, but the Ag-gag language was removed from the bill Tuesday morning. Preston from the ACLU NC said there was opposition to the punishments for whistle blowers in the bill from several Senate Republicans, as well as Democrats. 

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Brent Jackson, R-Duplin, said he was disappointed the provision was removed and indicated he may introduce the legislation again as a stand-alone bill in the 2015 long legislative session. 

The Committee will vote on the Commerce Protection Act without the ag-gag provision on Tuesday. 

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